Union activists from Papua New Guinea wanting a much fairer deal for local workers on resources and transport flew to Brisbane this week for their first formal training courtesy of a network led by the AMWU.
The four PNG citizens became the first unionists from their nation in decades to access union training in Australia, made available to the PNG Energy Workers Association and the Maritime and Transport Union of PNG.
AMWU president Andrew Dettmer and Queensland Secretary Rohan Webb, along with the ACTU, TWU, CFMEU and Maritime Union of Australia, supported the training for the four activists and officials through the International Transport Workers Federation. It was conducted at the AMWU's Brisbane offices.
Despite liquified natural gas projects and a thriving oil exploration industry worth more than $20 billlion, local workers are paid a pittance compared to thousands of expatriate workers.
Energy union delegate Patrick Pahina said InterOil Corporation refinery and LNG workers near Port Moresby are paid about 2.50 kina per hour ($1.15 Australian), about a twentieth of what expat workers are paid.
“We have serious issues at the refinery, we work an average 120 hours per fortnight and we get paid for just 80 hours,” he said.
On another project, the $15 billion PNG Liquified Natural Gas pipeline and processing plant run by Esso Highlands, about 3000 PNG locals also have inferior conditions to 10,000 expats.
The main local sub-contractor, Laba Holdings, refuses to recognise the union, as do nearly all of the other 11 foreign sub-contractors who pay only minimal wages.
A series of spontaneous strikes by local workers who were forced to stay in tents near the LNG plant construction site has seen them joining the PNG Energy Workers Association in droves, membership spiking to past 400.
Daniel Mathew, of the 7000-strong maritime-transport union, was also being hosted in Brisbane by the AMWU, along with his fellow unionists Belinda Lowan and Penias Puka.
He said employers in transport and maritime had a “terrible attitude” to unions seeking basic rights.
“Our main problems are knowing how to organise, how to communicate with members and workers scattered over many projects and to spread information,” Mr Mathew said.
The “train the trainer” courses were conducted by the AMWU’s Education Co-ordinator George Koletsis.
“It’s an eye-opener to realise what these fellow unionists face so close to Australia and we have to do what we can to help them,” he said.