Maximum Trouble with Minimum Wage


Madang Labour man Peter Neimani, “the company was at fault when it did not pay the minimum wage.

ON JANUARY 21 this year the Minimum Wages Board declared that the minimum wage  rate was to be increased from K1.72  to K2.29 per hour.

Weeks later RD Tuna  tried to seek an exemption from that wage rate. The fishing and canning company wrote to the government  seeking recognition as an agriculture company just so it would avoid paying Papua New Guineans the minimum wage  determined by Papua New Guinea government regulations. 

While  the company could have paid the minimum wage in the interim, it chose to tell its workers through the workers’ union that it would not pay the minimum wage until clarification was given by the government.  Well, clarification was given by the government. David Tibu, the Secretary for Labor then, took out a  quarter page advertisement in  one of the dailies  to inform all companies to implement the minimum wage rate of K2.29. When queried  by the workers, RD Tuna  continued to maintain that they were still waiting for government clarification!

On Tuesday July 27, workers who had been on strike for the last 6 days gathered outside the factory premises  and demanded answers from the company.  None of the Filipino managers  showed up to address the crowd.  Instead Madang’s Provincial Labor officer, Peter Neimani, told workers exactly what they knew all along: “the company was at fault when it did not pay the minimum wage.  But that did not stop a senior RD Tuna  Manager, Elmer Moderno from placing 505 workers  on what he called: “preventative suspension.” According to workers, Moderno also threatened them with mass termination.

During the meeting outside the factory premises, workers were told that  they would begin receiving  the new minimum wage  on August 6th. However, their  accumulated back-pay  would not be given to them yet because “it was in excess of 2 million kina and the company would need to assess how it would pay the workers.”

On Wednesday, July 28, word came out from some of the 505  suspended workers that RD Tuna had began recruiting new workers and that the first batch of 78 were undergoing medical tests.  This again, becomes another example of this Filipino owned company attempting to bend the rules to suit its needs.  It would be cheaper to recruit new workers  and pay them the minimum wage then to reinstate the employees  it suspended and pay them the 2 million kina in backdated  wages on top of the minimum wage.  The 505 workers are being penalized for standing up for their rights.

Earlier, this year, more than 50 Papua New Guinean seafarers were “displaced.”  Without giving any official reason, the seafarers  were  told they could not board RD Tuna fishing boats where they work on.  A vast majority were then given land based jobs  as casual laborers.  RD Tuna won’t officially admit  that the seafarers were  displaced because they were  in negotiations to be included as part of  the PNG Maritime Workers Union – their constitutional right.   According to  the seafarers, RD management called them into a meeting  and demanded that they cease their negotiations with the Maritime Workers Union.  RD Tuna even tried reimbursing their membership fees which they had already paid to the maritime workers union. For RD Tuna, it appears that Papua New Guinea’s laws designed to protect its workers are a hindrance to profit and unions who stand up for the rights of workers are seen as an obstacle.

It is understood that after the displacement of the Papua New Guinean seafarers,  RD Tuna, recruited about 60 Filipino seafarers  to replace them. 

In April, Police grounded an RD Tuna vessel and began investigating  the death of a Papua New Guinean Fisheries Officer who was murdered on board the vessel Dolores 838 allegedly by RD’s Filipino workers. According to media reports,  he had been attempting to save dolphins who were caught in RD Tuna’s nets.   It is also understood that there was only one other person on board the vessel who would stand up for his countryman. Following investigations  six Filipino workers have been arrested for the murder of the Fisheries observer and they will appear in court on Friday 30th July  2010.


9 thoughts on “Maximum Trouble with Minimum Wage

  1. What is wrong with these sub human beings? Why is it so hard to treat other human beings with respect and make a fair return on investment?

    Where is our labour department? Can someone stand up and protect our people? RD must stop getting on our nerves and respect our laws and treat our people fairly. Otherwise, they must close down shops and take their business elsewhere.

    If this is how our people will be treated, then what is the guarantee that 10 factories that will be created under the so called PMIZ will not do the same? What is the guarantee that 10 fish factories will not exacerbate the misery 10 times over?

    We don’t need cheap investments that operate on the cost model in our country. We do not need sub human beings who treat our people with disrespect in our own country. If money is too important for them than other fellow human beings, then they can take their money and go elsewhere.

    We must not be afraid to make tough decisions to protect ourselves and set up good deterrent precedents for the future. We must not be afraid to take the hard steps now to ward off rogue investors like RD and attract good quality investors who are willing to rise above the minimum legal requirements to conduct their businesses ETHICALLY in our country.

  2. Hi David,

    Has anyone looked at the statements from the PNG government and the agreement from the company when this primary production commenced? What were the contractual arrangements? I’ll lay a bet it was all about how this new business could help the country and provide employment etc.

    It has started to become a recognised fact that many European and ‘other’ countries, as their populations continue to grow, are expecting to become massive food and resource importers. They are now buying up the vast tracts of arable land and food stocks in other countries in anticipation of what they will need in the future. Also, a recent TV program on the production of cocoa beans from West Africa and European chocolate manufactures was very illuminating. Children in West Africa are becoming virtual child slaves that produce cocoa for the Europeans. PNG and Australia are just some on the list of food producing and resource rich countries including those in Africa where the practice of potential land alienation has already commenced. What will happen to the residents to these resource rich countries when they themselves need their own resources and food stocks is anyone’s guess.

    PNG workers seem to be currently in a very vulnerable position when their government clearly doesn’t stand up for them. Whether this is by ‘commission’ or ‘omission’ is another question. The PNG government has apparently become non functional and virtually non existent these days. Some members or parliament are just too interested in self gain at the risk of their country’s pain.

    What is the relevant department doing? Sitting on its hands? So what does the appropriate minister have to say about this situation I wonder? Waffle or action? Clearly it is not possible for the PNG Opposition to question the minister as the PNG Parliament has ceased to exist, thanks to your current PM and the Speaker.

    It is unfortunately a fact of human nature that where a power vacuum exists, someone will try to fill it.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Your comments on potential for exploitation due to an existence of power vacuum is spot on. But there is a twist in the PNG setting. I have a feeling that power is inappropriately used in PNG and is being hijacked and applied very selectively and at the whims of narrow interest groups including corrupt business people.

    The fact that our labour department is playing dumb on our own people’s concerns is proof of inappropriate use of power. The fact that even our own government will call in police to scare people off so they do not protest against what they believe is unfair treatment is proof that power is not used correctly. The fact that our people’s concerns are being trivialised at the whims of greedy business people is proof that power is being applied inappropriately.

  4. What about China? the same thing that Paul and David are talking about. Are we being set up to be the bread basket for millions who do not want to exercise responsibility. So many govts in power are ignorant of the facts that you guys are laying out here.

    Hegemony of this kind is lethal for posterity of PNG. Is this what the 2050 vision is all about? for PNG to be the bread basket for foreign countries where there is no reciprocity, just get, get, get?

    The RD case is just one but there are others to I am sure. One only needs to dig a little deeper.

    Manu, thanks for sharing this ugly scenario – it provides food for thought – serious thought.

    1. All the more reason why someone must be made an example of. The vultures are hovering over our beautiful country and watching closely how we handle issues such as RD’s. It’s crunch time and our actions or the lack of it will speak volumes about our intentions as a nation.

      We have an opportunity to send the right signals out and make a statement about how we would like people to conduct their businesses in our country. Where are labour department people? They should be jumping to grab this opportunity with both arms and deal with it properly and make a bold statement of our national intent.

  5. Food for thought indeed. But also food for who else? Who really knows where the canned tuna from PNG ends up? While this is a serious problem for the workers of this company, a much greater one exists not far down the track.

    Many people in the ‘developed world’ want to eat tuna because it has omega 3 oils that ‘are good for the heart’. Others, like those in Japan want to eat raw tuna as in sushi. The stocks of the world’s tuna are fast being decimated and some people claim fish farming is the answer. But tuna, like salmon and other pelagic carnivorous fish must eat something to live and grow, whether it be in the open ocean or in a fish farm. What these large fish live on to produce the sought after omega 3 oil are bait fish and sardines.

    Trouble is, the world’s growing population is fast consuming the bait fish and sardines as well as the tuna and salmon. The pet food manufactures use vast quantities of fish so that people in the ‘developed world’ can feed their little moggy a ‘lovely fish dinner’. What happens when our fish stocks reach the point of no return?

    Let’s face it. Our world’s food resources are diminishing and the populations in many countries are ever expanding. Global warming is a long term problem that will still be there when we run out of food or face one of the traditional ways of natural population control. Regrettably, the meek will not inherit the earth. They probably won’t get a job with these sorts of foreign companies in the short term either.

  6. RD TUNA Canners in Madang have agreed to pay its workers the minimum wage of K2.29 as of today following an industrial strike last week but there is a catch.

    Financial Controller, Elma Moderno is not paying the workers smiling. Mr Moderno has issued instructions that as of August 9, that’s next Monday, the workers will have to find their own way to work. The pick up service facilitated by the company will cease.

    This is not going down well for the workers as they realise they will loose big time. Many of the workers live away from the factory and will be spending more than K5 a day to travel in and out of work. The “spin-off” businesses in the transport service will cease and the truck owners loose as well even though they were not part of the striking workers.

    Over time when this gets difficult workers who are from other parts of Madang and Papua New Guinea will be squatting around the factory, placing more pressure on the local communities of Siar, Matupi, Nobonob, Nagada, Riwo and other neighbouring communities.

    Mr Moderno has been able to take from the workers K5 for their Identification Cards, K8 for T’shirts, K1 for hair nets, K6 for caps, K12 for long pants, K89 for safety boots and others. He has now thrown transport costs on the workers.

  7. Sad. very sad. Why are workers being made to pay for the safety gear? Aren’t these part of the production cost which the company must absorb at no cost to its employees?

    Labour is not simply another factor of production and must be treated with the respect and dignity it deserves. Why are people being treated like robots? Where is labour department?

    This is not Asia and we must not be treated like a bunch of desperate people who will go to any length, regardless of how demoralising and inhumane it may be, just to make a living.

  8. It is always at the advantage of the company when dedicated Papua New Guineans are being sacked by the Rd Tuna company and not giving them enough finish pay. What a cheating company when it had to tell extreme lies to us the scripture logo to safeguard its reputation. In Reality not treating the employees well.

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