PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 27, 2010) - Five thousand Fijians to take up jobs on the Papua New Guinea (PNG) gas project? It may sound senseless and dangerous to some, but it has merit.

The Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, has hinted at such a move in his recent utterances to a New Zealand gathering.

He told the Kiwis that skilled labor must be allowed to migrate easily between the Melanesian Spearhead countries as part of the trade arrangements.

"I will not be averse to suggestions where skilled personnel from the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) countries that have similar customs and cultures to ours, are given first preferences to jobs related to the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project,’’ he said.

One of his senior ministers is now talking about the possibility of up to 5,000 Fijians hopping onto planes to jet in and take up jobs with the ExxonMobil lead project.

It will be interesting to see if the major companies involved will look fondly on the Prime Minister’s MSG labor preferences. We can imagine the US executives rearing back at the thought of a "kava’’ culture slipping onto the pipeline and other work sites involved with the massive LNG export industry that is to arise here.

But there is substantial merit in giving our Pacific wantoks some kind of favored treatment. Fijian, Solomons, Vanuatu . . . they are all closer to us than the other recruitment markets already mentioned.

Many of the islands people have good skills and qualifications, equal to those from more developed countries. Add to that the natural background of their Pacific cultures and they are bound to have a better chance of fitting in with the Papua New Guinea society and ways of life.

That is not to say we will introduce people like that and have a perfect behavior record. People who get lucrative pay deals tend to drink too much and misbehave when they get paid. But there is a greater likelihood that Melanesian people will intuitively fit in with PNG ways and expectations while on the job and while relaxing.

We urge the officials and politicians to give it serious consideration, but also to keep a diversity of hiring sources. We need a harmonious bunch of workers on this project.

We also need the best hiring outcomes for our own people before any job is hawked off to people from other lands!

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