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Shop assistants make $1.71 a day

By Zachery Per

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 23, 2008) – Most shop assistants in Goroka are earning between PGK60 and PGK90 [US$24 and US$36] per fortnight, according to a submission to the Minimum Wages Board hearing from the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) yesterday.

[PIR editor’s note: This rate of pay boils down to US$1.71 to US$2.57 per day.]

These rates are far below the minimum wages determination of 1992 that allowed average workers to earn PGK74.40 [US$29.46] per fortnight for 80 hours work.

The shop assistants work 12 hours for 14 days in a fortnight and still earn very low wages.

Mewie Launa from FPDA pointed this out during the Minimum Wages Board hearing in Goroka on Tuesday.

He said these workers worked from 6am to 6pm, including weekends, and most of them were married with young families.

"Comparing an average wage earner of PGK70 a fortnight against the cost of maintaining a small family is unrealistic for someone to survive the wage rate determined currently. "The wage rate did not include the cost of accommodation, medical, transport to and from work, and school fees to name a few," Mr. Launa said.

He pointed out that Papua New Guinean wage earners were supervised by people of Asian origin who cannot speak and understand Tok Pisin, English or Motu.

He said they were brought to supervise or work the tills.

"These individuals have no concerns for the people who work for them, every week you will notice new faces in Asian-managed shops which are used as training grounds for these Asians who are then moved to new locations after gaining confidence," Launa said.

He said nationals working in some of the Asian shops experienced abuse, manipulation, rough treatment, no concerns for health and safety in work places, and requests for sexual favor in exchange for employment.

Launa said there were blatant abuses and violation of employment regulations and mistreatment where employees were given no opportunity to invest in superannuation for future viability.

"People are human beings and must be treated fairly, failing that you witness crime in work places.

"Unless this is addressed, people would steal, become corrupt, collaborate with criminal elements, accept bribes and the list goes on."

He presented another case study that cost of living in Port Moresby was very high and families were struggling to see their next pay day.

"Every one that we spoke to mentioned that they had to borrow money to support their family, the situation is getting worse by the day and they don’t know what they can do to help improve the situation," Launa said.

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