Today’s opening speech by John Paska, Secretary PNGTUC to the PNGTUC Congress saw the largest gathering of unionists ever seen in PNG. There were representatives from every province in the PNG & from Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji. Working for a Fair and Just Papua New Guinea, PNGTUC Congress, Wednesday 27 July 2005, Port Moresby.

I would like to start by welcoming you all to Port Moresby and to this Conference of the Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress.

Looking at all of you in this room today is truly a wonderful sight.

This is the largest gathering of unionists this country has ever seen. There are representatives here today from every province in PNG. There are also representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji.

Tomorrow we will be addressed by our Prime Minister.

By the weeks end, for the first time, the PNG union movement will have adopted a comprehensive policy platform.

And most important of all this Congress will witness a rebirth of the PNGTUC.

All of this shows how powerful we can be when Papua New Guinea workers come together under one roof. The very fact of all of us being in this room together right now is a sign that PNG unions are a force to be reckoned with.

It is a sign that we have:

  • the power to better our jobs;
  • the power to change our lives; and
  • the power to change our country
  • I would like to start by acknowledging our brothers and sisters from beyond our shores who have joined us here today and this week. We have here today:

  • Rajeshwar Singh Chairperson of the South Pacific and Oceanic Council of Trade Unions;
  • Mike Ingpen The Secretary of the South Pacific Council of Trade Unions;
  • Carol Beaumont The Secretary of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions;
  • Felix Anthony the Secretary of the Fiji Trade Union Congress;
  • Helen Maunga Cook Islands Workers Association;
  • Taupisi Faamau Samoa Trade Union Congress; and
  • Ephraim Kalsakau Vanuatu Council of Trade Unions.
  • All of you are very welcome to Papua New Guinea.

    We are also joined by a large contingent of brothers and sisters from Australia.

  • Richard Marles The Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions;
  • Paul Slape The National Secretary of the Australian Services Union;
  • John Maitland The National Secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the President of the International Chemical Energy and Mineworkers Union;
  • David Carey The National Secretary of the State Public Services Federation;
  • Kerry Brinkley The National Vice-President of the Finance Sector Union;
  • Wade Noonan A National Industrial Officer of the Transport Workers Union
  • Sarah Fitzpatrick The South Pacific Regional Representative of the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers;
  • Jasper Goss Representative of the International Union of Foodworkers; and
  • Terry Wood An Organizer with the Queensland Branch of the Australian Labor Party.
  • Welcome to you all.

    This delegation from Australia follows on from the highly successful delegation to this country by Australian union officials back in February of this year.

    The aim of that delegation was to establish one on one partnerships between individual unions in Australia and individual unions in PNG. And thats exactly what happened.

    Since that delegation we have seen a blossoming in the cooperation that has occurred between unions here and unions in Australia from the police to the nurses to the bank workers to the transport workers and more. And at the PNGTUC we have also worked closely with the ACTU.

    These union partnerships have been very beneficial to unions in PNG but also for the unions in Australia. And for our part we are very appreciative of the assistance that the Australian unions are providing us.

    These partnerships are creating a much deeper understanding between our two movements and they are opening up new opportunities where we can work together to help workers here in PNG and workers in Australia too.

    Our two countries have had a long and close history together. And it is so very fitting that we should be able to give a contemporary expression to that history of friendship by the relationships we have established between the brothers and sisters in both of our respective union movements.

    In PNG today we face many compelling challenges in improving the lot of working people. But every day we are meeting those challenges and we are changing peoples lives.

    In the private sector there is no better example of this than what the Timber and Construction Workers Union have achieved at RHG.

    RHG is a foreign company with a large stake in PNG. On the one hand it is a major media owner in this country while on the other it owns 90% of the timber market in Papua New Guinea.

    For many years its employment practices have been beyond disgraceful. It has behaved in a criminal fashion more reminiscent of eighteenth century American slavery than of a modern company operating in the new millennium.

    At its timber works in Panakawa workers were expected to perform their work for no money and only meagre food rations. Guards were employed around the clock to ensure that workers did not escape from their compounds. Women were systematically raped in order to scare them into obedience and into greater labour.

    And simply for trying to expose this outrage and bring a level of justice to these godforsaken workers two unionists ***insert name*** and ***insert name*** were murdered.

    Yet in the face of all of this our union movement triumphed. The TCWU were ultimately successful in bringing RHG to the table. They have now negotiated a collective agreement covering the workers at Panikowa resulting in 1200 new members for the TCWU with the prospect of many thousands more in the future.

    Thanks to the TCWU wages have improved but most importantly of all the rape and the murder and the virtual slavery has been brought to an end.

    In the public sector we have had success as well.

    At the end of last year the Public Employees Association with the help of the TUC concluded an historic agreement within the PNG public service.

    After months of negotiations a deal was concluded which provided for a union collective agreement covering 70,000 PNG public servants across the country.

    This is the largest collective agreement that exists within PNG today.

    The agreement provided for annual pay increases of 4% over the three-year life of the agreement in addition to a one-off payment of K650.

    This is the largest pay rise within the PNG public service for many many years.

    In total this will amount to in excess of K200 million being put in the hands of ordinary PNG workers.

    And this happened because of the effective representation, because of the strength of a PNG union the PEA.

    These stories are truly inspiring. They are why we have all devoted our lives to the cause of unionism in Papua New Guinea.

    There are many other initiatives under way.

  • The process of amalgamation of unions on an industry basis has been commenced.
  • Accountability of the TUC and indeed many of our affiliates has been improving all the time.
  • We have been successful in ensuring worker representation on local governments and government boards.
  • The process of reviewing the minimum wage has been revived for the first time since 1992 and we are now seeing upward adjustments in the minimum wage.
  • We have a functioning management board which is meeting regularly.
  • There has been success in getting the Government to ratify five core conventions of the ILO.
  • The womens wing of the TUC is now up and running.
  • For the first time in the history of the TUC we now have an office building which gives a physical presence to our work.
  • We have launched the PNG Labor Party which is now represented within our National Parliament.
  • Life has been breathed back into the National Tri-partite Consultative Council which brings together Government, employers and workers in a spirit of cooperation to discuss industrial issues.
  • The industrial relations legislation had been reviewed with direct union input.
  • And the brakes have been put on privatisation and the retrenchment of public servants.
  • While we have achieved much in these areas there is still so much more to do. There remain many opportunities which are currently being lost because our national centre the TUC is so under-resourced. Yet if we were able to properly finance our national work imagine what we could achieve.

    This is why it is so important that we use the opportunity of this Congress to become an even more united and an even more effective trade union movement in the future.

    This will only happen if we have leadership from each and every union in this country. As affiliates it is in truth you who are the TUC not I. Power achieved by national co-ordination and national unity makes you powerful not me. And the decision to make this a reality is your decision not mine.

    The assistance from the ILO and from our brothers and sisters in Australia and from the region is enormously appreciated. But at the end of the day we need to stand on our own two feet.

    The money exists within PNG to make these things happen. All we need now is your leadership and your will.

    It is essential that this Congress be a new beginning for the PNGTUC.

    But in order to do this it is also essential that we acknowledge and square away the past.

    Later today I will be presenting the accounts of PNGTUC.

    What they will show is that the TUC has been surviving on an annual income of about K8,000 for the nine years since restoration commenced in 1992. While I have been working full-time in my role as the PNGTUC Secretary, this amount has not been enough to pay me a full-time salary or to pay wages to much needed additional staff. There has also clearly not been enough money to meet the cost of running programs and providing effective assistance to affiliates and workers.

    It means that over the years the TUC has essentially amounted to being my time and the TUC office.

    This is not insignificant. It has allowed us to provide a community for unions in PNG. It has allowed me to participate in the national debate and represent unions in major disputes.

    It has allowed us to maintain a national union identity and a platform from which we are now able to make this great leap forward through the Congress this week.

    I would be the first to acknowledge that the lack of resources has meant that ordinary administrative tasks have taken longer than I would have liked.

    But if we are to make good this great leap forward, if we want to take unionism in PNG to a new level then the resourcing of the PNGTUC has to change and the nature of the PNGTUC has to change.

    This weeks Congress is a historic opportunity for our movement. It is not an opportunity that will present itself again for a long long time.

    We have the opportunity here to account for the past and then move into a totally different future. A future with a well organised, well resourced national union centre that has the power to lead the union movement in the twenty first century and to help unionism grow in this country.

    Ultimately we have little choice in this for ordinary PNG workers expect us to seize this moment and if we dont it will become the defining regret of our careers.

    With that in mind a totally different TUC is being presented to you this week.

    For the first time we are seeking that you adopt a comprehensive set of policies for the PNG trade union movement. In the coming days we will debate polices around:

  • Union Values;
  • National Building;
  • Casuals and Insecure Forms of Employment;
  • Superannuation & Retirement Incomes;
  • OHS;
  • Public Services;
  • International;
  • Education;
  • Sustainable Development;
  • Wages and Collective Bargaining;
  • Women;
  • Work & Family;
  • Working Hours & Work Intensification;
  • Unions reaching out to new members;
  • Unions and the wider Society;
  • Unions and the Workplace;
  • Trade Unions and Politics;
  • Tax; and
  • Trade
  • Particularly important in this is the Statement of Papua New Guinean Union Values. This is a concise statement of our core beliefs that fairness needs to be at the heart of the life in Papua New Guinea.

    The statement, among other things, says:

    Unions believe in a democratic Papua New Guinea, which values all citizens and their aspirations.

    Unions believe in the right of all citizens to employment and a decent standard of living to a fair share of the nations wealth.

    Unions believe that every Papua New Guinean must have access to free, quality public health care and education, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances.

    Unions believe that families and individuals must be guaranteed decent minimum living standards through the social security and taxation systems.

    Unions believe that workers should have a right to a decent wage and fair working conditions.

    Unions believe that workers should have the right to join and be represented by a union.

    Unions believe that all employees should have the right to collectively bargain.

    Unions believe that workplace union representatives should have rights enabling them to carry out their role.

    This statement of values along with the rest of the policies that we adopt this week will act as a guiding light in our work over the coming years. It provides us with a reference point for our activities. It provides us with a national agenda for our action.

    Rather than being on the back foot complaining about what our country has become, for the first time we will be on the front foot stating what we want our country to be.

    We are also seeking that you amend the PNGTUC constitution. It is essential that our governing document puts more power in the hands of those you elect. It is essential that our governing document provides for transparent and accountable financial management.

    The changes that we are seeking are:

  • Improvements in representation; and
  • An increase in the capitation fees.
  • Other constitutional are also likely to be sought by some affiliates.

    Most importantly we are presenting to you for your endorsement a business plan of a new TUC. A TUC that is resourced to the full extent of the PNG Trade Union movement.

    From those unions who have expressed a desire to be as one under the same roof in the one national union centre, 60,000 Papua New Guinea workers are represented.

    The annual affiliation fee to the TUC is K2. This means that if every union is fully paid up to the TUC then K120,000 should be forthcoming. In reality though to properly run an effective centre then the annual budget should be more like K300,000.

    With this money a totally different national union centre can be built. The business plan for the new TUC requires:

  • A full-time secretary;
  • An administrative assistant;
  • An accounts clerk;
  • An education officer;
  • A legal officer;
  • A budget for programs and activities; and
  • A budget to travel within PNG.
  • This plan first of all provides for an administrative assistant and an accounts clerk. This will allow us to maintain our finances with regular reporting and to order the remainder of our administrative affairs. Personally speaking I cannot tell you how happy that will make me.

    The Plan provides for an education officer. This person will be able to implement a comprehensive union training program throughout the movement. It will allow us as a movement to centralise this important function and to pool our combined resources.

    It will also ensure that as union officials and delegates are trained in PNG there will be a consistent message provided to them, a message that we can control.

    Clearly those unions which already have a training capacity will continue to conduct training but for the first time the TUC will be able to provide some national leadership in this vital area.

    Tomorrow there will be a report on the joint PNGTUC ACTU application to the ILO for funding of a training project. If we are successful in that application then this will really allow us to implement a first rate program with the new education officer which will build a local training capacity while drawing on the expertise and resources of the ACTUs Organising Centre.

    The Plan also has provision for a legal officer. All too often now we find ourselves at a disadvantage when pitted against employers in the Industrial Relations Commission and in the Courts. This is because the mustering together of legal resources is so difficult for us particularly relative to the resources that employers throw against us.

    Having a dedicated legal officer at the TUC will enable unions to be able to go into industrial disputes with the confidence that if they end up in a tribunal they will have good representation beside them.

    Having this capacity at a national level has been long overdue and will make a qualitative difference to our outcomes.

    With a comprehensive policy platform, a reformed constitution and a new business plan you will have a reborn TUC. And from this will come a reborn union movement.

    We will do nothing more important this week than to make this commitment and take this step.

    Papua New Guinea workers are crying out for us to take this step.

    Papua New Guinea is crying out for us to take this step.

    Our country is crying out for us to take this step because at the heart of every thriving democracy stands a thriving trade union movement. But right now our country is sick.

    Papua New Guinea stands as one of the poorest countries in the world. Vanuatu is two and half times as wealthy, Tonga and Samoa more than three times as wealthy, Fiji near five times as wealthy and Botswana more than seven times as wealthy.

    Our income distribution is also amongst the worst in the world with Ethiopia, Malawi and Mauritania all having a greater equality of wealth than PNG.

    On top of this we have an AIDS crisis which is reaching Sub-Saharan levels.

    And nobody in this room needs to be reminded about the lawlessness that we face in our country each and every day.

    Politics has become rotten. The path to wealth has become aligned with the path to political power which is a recipe for endemic corruption.

    Our political debate lacks any significant ideological foundation with our parties instead representing geographic and sectional interests. All of this leads to a situation where our national identity, our sense of nation is weak.

    In this sea of trouble the union movement can and must become a pillar of strength.

    We need to become more politically active through the PNG Labor Party with a view to getting union representatives elected to our National Parliament in the 2007 elections. We need to use this opportunity to ensure that the Government of our country starts working for our countrys working people.

    We need to become more politically active through the PNG Labor Party with a view to getting union representatives elected to our National Parliament in the 2007 elections. We need to use this opportunity to ensure that the Government of our country starts working for our countrys working people.

    Our mission is about ensuring that PNG workers get a greater slice of the national pie thus creating greater equality within our economy.

    We are not rooted in corruption, indeed far from it and we mean to be a part of stamping it out within our society.

    Our mission has a strong ideological base and this will be strengthened by the important work we undertake this week.

    And we are national in our outlook and thus have a national identity and keen sense of nation.

    Just as union movements have been at the genesis of successful democracies around the world so too in PNG we stand as our countrys best hope.

    And so in the next three days as we undertake this critical work as we discuss these critical issues, and as we make these critical decisions I ask all of you to keep in the forefront of your mind that the resurgence of the Papua New Guinea Trade Union Movement our resurgence will be our countrys rescue.