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PNG UNION’S REJECT MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE First increase in 16 years not enough to catch up

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, October 2, 2008) - The trade unions have rejected outright a 10.2 percent increase of minimum wages across the board proposed by the Employers Federation of PNG yesterday.

The federation proposed the increase as an interim arrangement to be effected immediately with Cabinet’s blessings to help workers overcome high prices of goods and the cost of living.

"We have rejected their proposal outright. We will not agree to any interim arrangements. We do not want to pre-empt the decision of the Minimum Wages Board," Public Employees Association president Michael Malabag said.

Union representatives held a meeting at the PNG Trade Union Congress headquarters to discuss the matter yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Malabag said the unions were only given the proposal at the opening of the 2008 MWB hearing at the Hideaway Hotel yesterday.

Malabag said the unions will be proposing a double increase of the 2000 Minimum Wages Board determination which is PGK74.72 [US$30] per fortnight, to increase it to about PGK150 [US$60] per fortnight.

The MWB hearing was opened by Labour and Industrial Relations Minister Mark Maipakai who urged the two parties to come to some compromise and endorse it though the board.

Federation executive director Florence Willie agreed in her submission to the hearing that the current minimum wage level and the manner in which it is generally applied was "disgraceful, unfair and unjust."

Ms. Willie said all stakeholders should be ashamed to have allowed the situation to continue for so long without making any real proactive attempt to seek out a better alternative.

"Not the least to blame for this situation are the various governments of the day who had the sole right to convene Minimum Wage Boards and had chosen to exercise that right only once in 16 years in 2000," Willie said.

She said it was wrong to assume that the federation was advocating a significant, immediate increase across the board to the minimum wages.

"What the federation will be suggesting, however, is that all stakeholders must be prepared to take an innovative approach to finding a workable, affordable, but fair solution to the problems employees face," she said.

"The complexion of the minimum wage needs to be radically altered."

She said given the lack of minimum wage adjustments for the last 16 years, the federation recognized that there may well be a push for a very significant "catch up" factor.

"The federation urges the board to resist such a push and consider carefully the potential impacts on the economy and employment and seek a workable alternative," she said.

"The federation believes that such an approach would find less resistance from Government and employers, allowing them to realistically incorporate wage costs thus enabling them to sustain their businesses and importantly employment."

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