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Reasons behind walkout unclear

By Harlyne Joku PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 6, 2010) - Workers at Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) largest copper and gold mine site, Ok Tedi in the Western Province, went on strike last Thursday morning, shutting down operations at Tabubil, Kiunga and Bige.

Members of the Ok Tedi Mining and Amalgamated Workers Union called last Thursday morning to confirm the strike action but refused to be named.

The PNG Trade Union Congress, on the same day, called a press conference on behalf of the striking union, (Ok Tedi Mining and Amalgamated Workers Union) to confirm that their 1600-plus members had walked off their jobs that morning and would remain on strike for an indefinite period.

General Secretary John Paska said it was an unfortunate situation that had arisen to that extent.

He said although the exact areas of discontentment were unclear, the situation seemed serious enough to cause the workers to walk off their jobs.

Mr. Paska said the union members were engaged in a cross section of the Ok Tedi mine site including Tabubil, Kiunga and Bige. They had walked off their jobs as a result of their concerns of the disparities in the payout of bonus. Recently the Ok Tedi Mining Limited had boasted a profit of 4 billion kina [US$1.5 billion], Mr. Paska said.

"Their bonus payments to their national workers have not met the workers expectations. They claim that more was paid to expatriate workers and management than to national workers at the bottom level," he said.

[PIR editor’s note: According the Ok Tedi mine website, it started operations in 1984, and has become the single largest business contributor to the economies of both the Western Province and Papua New Guinea. In 2007, it states that the export earnings were at 4.6 billion kina [US$1.7 billion], which represents approximately 32 percent of PNG's total export earnings.]

Another outstanding issue is that of heavy taxing. He said the workers were seriously concerned about the 35 per cent tax imposed on the workers retirement benefits.

Mr. Paska said this did not just affect Ok Tedi Workers only but everyone across the country. The Government had imposed a 35 tax on the retirement package which practically took a big slice of their finish pay, he said.

He said this was a serious issue that needs to be addressed by the government and employers.

Mr. Paska called on the Ok Tedi management and the union members to fast trek their negotiations and reach an outcome that is satisfactory to all parties.

Meanwhile the Ok Tedi Mining Limited management responded in a brief statement over the Easter weekend, claiming that the strike was illegal and the workers claims uncalled for because they were better paid with more decent benefits than other workers throughout the country.

The management called on the union members to return to work. But as of yesterday it was still not clear whether the union members had returned to work.

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