ABOUT 1,500 striking workers at the Ok Tedi mine face being sacked if the do not return to work today.
Facing mounting financial losses that could have dire consequences on a national economy reliant on mineral exports, Ok Tedi Mining Limited went to court and obtained an order to force the workers to return to work.
The strike, over the “shares in success scheme” issue, has been described as illegal by the Industrial Registrar. OTML says they are losing K6 million a day as a result of the stop work.
With the strike into the 15th day, the losses are at K90 million and climbing.
OTML said yesterday in a press release and an open letter to employees that the strike put the company’s future at risk.
“We are also letting our very valuable customers down,” OTML managing director Alan Breen said.
“Whilst employees continue to strike landowners will receive reduced royalties and mine affected communities will receive less funds for community projects and government taxes and dividends will be also significantly reduced,” Breen said.
The strike started on April 1 when workers from B Crew at the mine and mill withdrew their labour.
Since then, the number of striking employees has grown significantly across the business and production from the company’s mine and mill has stopped. The daily production of the mine is about 450 tonnes of copper concentrate and 1,500 ounces of gold.
Mr Breen said this would significantly drop if the strikes continued.
The Government, recognising the impact on the 2010 budget if revenue falls, sent in officials from the Department of Mines and the Mineral Resources Authority to convene a mediation that would also involve the Industrial Registrar and the PNG Trade Union Congress.
But, no progress has been made, although OTML claimed workers have asked for compensation to return to work.
This could not be verified with the workers or their union.
“If employees choose not to return to work, OTML will then have exhausted its efforts to get employees back to work voluntarily and will have no option but to exercise its legal rights, including terminating employees who choose to withhold their labour,” Mr Breen said.
“OTML cannot allow an illegal strike to continue unresolved and indefinitely.
“This is a step that I have been reluctant to take and have tried very hard to avoid,” Mr Breen said in an open letter to the striking employees, requesting them to return to work by today.
Meetings with Government representatives, OTML management and the Ok Tedi Mining and Allied Workers Union have not reached any agreeable terms in the last four days.
Mr Breen said the employees were now making unacceptable demands for compensation to return to work.
The union has refused discussions on an MoU and maintained its call for additional cash bonuses of US$10,000 (K26,917) from the company’s shares in success scheme (SISS) to be paid immediately into the striking employees’ accounts.
However, OTML management has advised union executives and striking employees that it has no legal authority to make changes to the trust deed.
Mr Breen said he would not pay a lump sum to employees in exchange for work.
The SISS payouts are governed by the trust rules, which prohibit changes by the OTML management.
Mr Breen stated that striking employees were demanding that the OTML management negotiate something which it has no legal right to negotiate or change.
“The only avenue open for change is for a proposal to be made and for Part B employees to vote on that change.
“I have said to both the union executives and employees that is very unlikely that Part B employees will vote ‘yes’ to having their SISS payments reduced,” he said.