Reform planned for PNG labour laws

Papau New Guinea's labour laws are in for a make over which will now include a new Employment Relations Bill. The new bill will repeal and update the existing laws.

Press release | Suva, Fiji | 17 August 2012
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts , Australian Broadcast Corporation - PACIFIC BEAT

Speaker :Anne Boyd, labour law specialist, International Labour Organisation

Click here to listen to the interview

BOYD: Well in Papua New Guinea, they have what's called the Employment Act, which regulates the accord terms and conditions of employment and it's very old legislation which dates back to the early 1970s and possibly even earlier and for sometime it's been very difficult to operate under that legislation because it's very old and the Departments of Labour and Industrial Relations has recognised this and prioritised reforming it and that's how they approached us to get involved in that process.

COUTTS: Will any of the old laws be kept on and be included in the Employment Relations Bill?

BOYD: Yes, I mean there are provisions in the existing Work Act that are probably things that you could keep, which we're working with a working group, which the government has established, including workers and employers in government and we're looking through the bill to see what can be kept and there's quite a few things around, wages protection and things like that, for example, which people still feel reasonably comfortable with.

COUTTS: Now the new Employment Relations Bill, will that be more targeting employers or provisions that are for employees?

BOYD: Well, this bill is primarily focused on regulating core ?? tune, conditions and employment that applies to everyone, so it includes things like leave and including things like maternity leave, the regulation of child labour, wages protection and the law of dismissal, of course, which is important to employers and employees alike.

COUTTS: And the previous bill, which I guess now is considered outmoded and poor legislation. What kinds of problems did it cause?

BOYD: Well, it had a number of problems.The first one which was that it's got some very outdated things that are no longer relevant in a developing economy and society and that was things like it's got a prohibition on women working at night, for example, and working underground in mines, which employers working for governments have also needed to go and it also needs to modernise, to meet international labour standards as well, which PNG has ratified over a number of years, these are things around child labour, leave, wages and maternity teaching as well.

COUTTS: And will it say anything about people with disabilities?

BOYD: Well this particular bill is companion legislation for another draft bill which together will form a package and the another draft bill, the Industrial Relations bill deals with discrimination based on a number of grounds and it includes discrimination on the grounds of disability and HIV AIDS status. So under the law when it's passed, employers wouldn't be able to refuse to hire a person because they're disabled or have HIV.

COUTTS: And another problem for Papua New Guinea, domestic violence. Is there any provision for that in terms of womens employment and abusers?

BOYD: In an employment context, it's dealt with through again in the Industrial Relations Bill. It has quite a significant provision dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, which will be new and in the Employment Relations Bill when it's developed as well, the grounds for dismissal will also include some of those more serious types of conduct that can happen in workplaces like violence and assault. But often some of these issues also have to be dealt with by criminal law as well.

COUTTS: Now will these changes be specific to the needs of Papua New Guinea's labour force, because, it is, of course, like many Pacific nations has a formal and informal sector, so will it take note of that?

BOYD: Yes, they've intended to try and reduce as much of the private sector as possible. The informal sector is very hard to regulate and it's quite a challenge and in terms of labour law reform, it's more of a progressive process, so there may be a longer process by which you achieve some of those goals and some of the harder to reach sectors.

But in Papua New Guinea, there is also some very vulnerable workforces that need to be addressed which this legislation is looking at, like, for example, piece rate workers, who are in the Highlands, for example, and tea plantations who are obviously being paid by piece rates, who have very different employment circumstances, so that legislation will try and address some of those situations.

COUTTS: And how long will the drafting of this new Employment Bill take?

BOYD: Well, we're hoping that we'll have a draft bill ready that is something that the working group is happy with for broader consultation towards the end of this year. We don't make the decisions obviously on how long that process will take and it's very much subject to the working groups view.