By DAVID NALU
I also took the time to contemplate on how best to continue to live with, or to initiate discussion, debate and draw attention to what I consider one of the biggest injustices that local employees have had to live with for eons and will continue to, unless our collective voices are raised now and remedial action is taken.
That injustice is the dual wage structure that ensures expatriates are continued to be paid exorbitant amounts of money with all the perks and privilege, whilst the average Papua New Guineans slaves away for an annual salary that often does not even amount to the monthly accommodation rental bill for any individual expatriate officer.
Under the Australian colonial administration, the dual wage structure was originally set up understandably to attract skilled manpower to a remote colonial outpost like the Territory of Papua and New Guinea that lacked appropriately qualified personnel and desperately needed it.
However, the same old justification to retain this outdated practice is definitely running a bit thin now, given that the country now has qualified personnel who can perform just as well as anyone else.
It seems that it is retained in its current form, more in the interest of companies and organisations to keep down local labour overhead costs to the bare minimum, increase profits, and more likely to finance the exorbitant salaries of expatriate officers.
In many cases, the meagre salary paid to the national workforce in the main urban centres makes decent rental accommodation for the masses totally out of reach and only a dream. I am sure we all know of so called “professionals” – the lawyers, doctors, accountants or IT professional who because of these very circumstances are forced to become fringe dwellers and seek a place of refuge in squatter settlements by renting out shacks or rooms.
With real estate rentals already spiralling out of control in urban centres – there is an emerging and ever-growing class of fringe-dwelling professionals eking out a living in the corporate world and returning to seek board and lodging in conditions bordering on abject poverty- often with no running water or electricity, often in unsanitary conditions which would make even their forefathers in their tribal villages cringe.
I like to think of myself as a fairly well educated type – born and raised in the late colonial era of the 1970’s and 80’s by parents who were career civil servants – had the privilege of being taught by good teachers, sometimes expatriates - and now have tertiary level qualifications even with a post-graduate studies stint abroad.
Experience wise – I’ve had years of experience with several multinational organisations and now hold a managerial job that draws heavily on that experience and requires me to put in the same hard yards and maybe more than the next expatriate officer.
But sorry masta, I don’t get paid even a tenth of what the expat dude gets, even though my skills, qualifications and experience are on par or superior.
The ever-widening disparity is outright exploitation and is institutionalised racism of the highest order.
Due to lack of opportunities and choice, the masses have resigned to the fact that this is the order of the world, to be accepted without question.
Slave rates are being paid to the average skilled worker who takes home on average around PGK14,000 per annum or K500 per fortnight, which is barely enough to live on, let alone pay rent, transportation and to put bread on the table.
This fuels a host of socio-economic issues including corruption, the bustling black market of stolen goods, loan sharks, extortion and the list goes on what lowly-paid workers resort to simply survive,
The disparity will become painfully apparent when the LNG project and associated development comes into full steam and the imminent inflationary pressures which will see the appreciation of kina against major foreign currencies.
The negative impact of improving kina value, unless contained, will be the so called “Dutch Disease”.
Whilst imports may become cheaper, the benefits will be offset by a decline in export revenue earnings due the reduced demand for exports because it is simply too expensive for other countries to buy.
A concerted effort needs to be made by the government, central bank and other financial institutions to contain this phenomenon to ensure maximum benefits from the development are retained.
Unless this happens, the purchasing power of the meagre earnings of the average worker is set to be significantly eroded further.
The disparity between what expatriates are compensated compared to what Papua New Guineans are getting paid is a colonial legacy that has outlived its time and must now come under close scrutiny by the appropriate authorities and the human resources profession.
Minimum wage rates for all job types needs to be properly reviewed routinely, and realistically adjusted and aligned with the true cost of living.
If done properly on a timely basis, it will assist to alleviate a host of socio-economic issues which continues to plague modern-day PNG society.
Workers of PNG, arise, you have nothing to lose - but shackles of the colonial past and the prospect of being fairly paid for a fair days work.
And if that does happen, just maybe we’ll have more workers such as myself, less inclined to take a “sickie” to nurse a hangover, giving them idle time to hatch up ideas on how to kick-start a workers revolution.
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