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Staff threaten to strike unless salaries met

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 8, 2009) – The National Judicial Staff Services (NJSS) is in the red and unable to pay salaries for its staff.

Insiders claimed that the NJSS is in the red by about K1.5 million, [US$588,000] resulting in staff not being paid since last month.

This had led to disgruntled workers signing a petition demanding that the NJSS pay their outstanding salaries by next government fortnight or they would walk off their jobs.

Such a protest would throw court schedules for this year into chaos, although the new legal year has not officially opened.

The problem of outstanding salaries had prompted the National and Supreme Court registries to be closed all day yesterday and clients were served though the door.

Most staff did not turn up for work on Monday and yesterday due to the problem.

A staff member working within the court reporting division, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no point in coming to work when their children where going hungry and they did not have enough to spare for their own lunch and bus fare.

Court officials had not been paid their salaries since last Dec 30.

With the court on break for Christmas, proceedings had not been affected as there were only three cases listed on Monday with another three yesterday for the vacation judge.

However, cases before acting Chief Justice Gibbs Salika did experience a delay on Monday.

These were the cases of former solicitor-general Zachery Gelu and others against Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and members of the Commission of Inquiry into the Finance Department; and the continuing legal saga of suspended Gulf provincial administrator Miai Larelake against Gulf Governor Havilo Kavo over the legal representation of the Gulf provincial administration.

It was understood that the delay was due to Justice Salika meeting with Finance Department officials and the NJSS finance director over the issue of non-payment, but details of this meeting could not be obtained.

Attempts to get comments from the court registrars were unsuccessful. One is on leave while the others were not available.

The office of the acting Chief Justice referred The National to NJSS secretary Ron Silovo.

"This is an administrative matter and Mr. Silovo, as departmental head, would be in a better position to comment on the issue," an officer said.

Several attempts yesterday to speak with Silovo were unsuccessful.

Sources in the NJSS said certain unbudgeted projects had caused a blown-out, causing the shortfall.

Reports said staff present at work yesterday met and signed a petition demanding that they receive their outstanding salaries by next fortnight or they would boycott work.

By midday yesterday, most court officials had gone home.

The workers had vowed to continue "serving clients through the door" until the problem was rectified.

The National:

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