The National, Monday 3rd June 2013
By ELLEN TIAMU
ABOUT 260 out 1,000 striking workers at the Ramu Agri Industries Ltd’s (RAIL) palm oil estate at Gusap, Madang, have been sacked following a week-long protest.
The worker’s union has washed its hands off the workers saying the union executives were unaware of the strike action and the management had answered to a petition.
The sacked workers had the locks to their homes changed and said they would not budge.
They claimed the company had been selective in sacking only 260 out of some 1,000 striking workers.
RAIL is a subsidiary of New Britain Palm Oil Ltd, the country’s largest agricultural company that owns 12 palm oil mills.
The workers went on strike last Monday, the second this year, complaining about poor pay and unfavourable work conditions.
According Ramu Agri National Workers Union president Jeffrey Gundi, the failure by workers to return to work last Thursday left the company with no alternative but to carry out the mass sacking.
Gundi said the company’s general manager met with the disgruntled workers on Wednesday and urged them to return to work while their grievances were being looked into.
Spokesman Jonah Gigmai said in Gusap last Saturday the vast oil palm estate was becoming a lot of work with most of the field maturing.
He said workers were unable to meet required their daily and weekly targets, especially during the high crop season.
He said the failure by workers to meet their targets had forced the company to reduce their fortnightly allowances.
As well, as harvesting a required number of palms daily and taking them in wheel barrows to designated pick-up spots, harvesters were also required to cut the fronds on which the bunches were resting and take care of the rubbish.
Gigmai said some bunches from mature trees were 40kg to 50kg in weight.
When they returned to the same field to complete their work next morning, the B2 rate was applied which meant rate of payment decreased, he said.
Gigmai said most of them did not understand the collective bargain agreement (CBA) as it had not been explained to them.
He said terminations were done under the CBA, which stated that workers who were absent for four consecutive days were automatically terminated.
Gigmai said hundreds of workers at Ramu Agri’s Dumpu and Surinam estates also stopped work.
He added that locks to the houses of those terminated were changed last Friday and workers and their families forced to remove their belongings to await repatriation to their provinces of origin.
Passenger trucks hired by the company were on standby to take people from the Highlands provinces, Madang and Morobe back to their towns.
Many of the terminated workers defied the instruction to leave, saying all employees were involved in the protest and it was unfair that some were dismissed while others were allowed to continue.
When The National visited Division One compound last Saturday afternoon, there was a heavy police presence.