Pacific Media Watch

3 March 2014

PNG: Oil workers reaping benefits from joining unions, says campaigner

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The liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the remote Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Image:

MELBOURNE (Pacific Media Watch): An Australian union conference has thrown its weight behind efforts to increase levels of unionisation of workers in the liquefied natural gasfields in Papua New Guinea.

Shannon O'Keefe, campaign coordinator of the global transport workers' umbrella body International Transport Federation (ITF), told the Australian Council of Trade Unions' organising conference in Melbourne on Friday that companies like Chevron and Exxon were "really, really good at smashing some of the most brutal ways" in Papua New Guinea.

This was even though it was common for offshore gas facilities in Australia to be unionised.

O'Keefe said that on a recent visit to the country, she found Papua New Guinea's $15 billion Exxon Mobil-led liquefied natural gas (LNG) project was full of well paid mining engineers living in hotels while local non-unionised workers were paid very badly - earning about 400 PNG kina (about NZ$206 a month).

"A unionised worker in the PNG Energy Workers Union can get double that amount," O'Keefe added.

The international union project has seen 1800 workers join the union over the past 18 months, up from just 25. There are now two full time Papuan organisers and local women workers have pointed out that being unionised benefits them as their higher paycheques go further towards covering the cost of baby formula, which costs the same in PNG as it does in Australia.

Helped previously
The ITF and the Maritime Union of Australia have previously assisted the the Papua New Guinea Maritime and Transport Workers Union (PNGMTWU) in organising workers in fish processing plants and catching companies.

There are low levels of union membership in Papua New Guinea, and workers in multinational companies there generally face precarious working conditions.

O'Keefe said the cost of the project was just AUS$15 000 for two years. She was confident the Australian unions would continue to fund it.

Journalists in Papua New Guinea remain in a precarious position, with the Alliance of Independent Journalists reporting last month that "elements of the police force...most frequently committed violence against journalists".

"Solidarity is not an aid or charity project," O'Keefe said.

"It is a real chance to give workers in PNG a chance to push back against the multinationals."

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Anna Majavu

PMW contributing editor 2014

Anna Majavu is the Pacific Media Watch freedom project contributing editor for 2014.