National Power Outages Expected During PNG Power Union Strike

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Company, government appealing to unions not to affect elections

By Ellen Tiamu

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 18, 2012) – Papua New Guinea is expected to experience indefinite power outages when more than 2,000 PNG Power Ltd. staff stage a protest starting today.

It could extend past the start of voting in the general election on Saturday.

Highlands union representative Clement Ravini said yesterday in Lae: "The sit-down protest will go on for as long as it takes to get the attention of the (Public Enterprises) minister (Sir Mekere Morauta)."

About 200 workers in Lae will join their colleagues from around the country especially Yonki, Ramu, Rabaul and Port Moresby to protest against "cheap politics that is denying employees’ job guarantees and benefits, and Papua New Guineans the right to cheap electricity services."

The workers are unhappy with the government’s decision to transfer the company hydro assets to LR Group to manage without first resolving outstanding issues from PNG Elcom and PPL.

Momase Electricity Workers Association representative John Jacob and Ravini said in Lae yesterday the protest, which starts this morning, was not a union protest but one that included all other employees in the statutory organization.

Ravini said workers had no problems with the government bringing in a new company to provide better power services for PNG.

But they are angry because they have not been paid their entitlements from when PNG Power took over from PNG ELCOM in June 2010.

They were told that their entitlements were "parked somewhere."

And with the new shift in management, they want those entitlements and that of PPL paid out to them before they decided whether to continue with the new management or resign.

They cited the issues surrounding the privatization of the PNG Banking Corporation and Telikom.

They said while Telikom paid out full entitlements to former staff of PTC, PNGBC workers did not fare as well in the privatization (state-owned enterprises) process.

PPL workers did not want to face the same dilemma.

The workers are unhappy with Sir Mekere for saying the move to privatize is a government decision that must be adhered to.

A statement from PNG Power workers in Port Moresby yesterday warned that the impasse between the workers and government could lead to a mass walk-out and shutdown of services.

"Action by staff could affect the national election, and we are appealing to the government to reconsider the decision and find other alternatives to better power stations throughout the country," the statement said.

It added that workers would down tools until LR Group vacated PPL premises, ELCOM entitlements were paid out, internal issues resolved and an agreement secured for their future employment because "they will never believe or trust anybody during this transition."

Sir Mekere had said last Thursday that PPL workers would not lose their jobs or entitlements in the transition.

Jacob said Lae workers would only be servicing hospitals, Buimo jail, vital communication links and water users.

Business houses have been urged to take note of the impending industrial action and stock-up on fuel.

The electricity workers are appealing to members of the public to heed the stop-work warning and not to stock freezers and refrigerators with perishable food.

"Power to our houses will be affected by the sit-in protest and we are appealing to the public to appreciate that our fight is for the good of all Papua New Guineans and not only for ourselves," they said.

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