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.