Serious and continued violations of fundamental rights are disclosed in a new report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on core labour standards in Papua New Guinea, published to coincide with the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) review of this country’s trade policies.
The rights to form and join unions, to collectively bargain and to strike are recognised by law and in Papua New Guinea’s constitution. However, many legal provisions are not in conformity with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and limit the scope of the laws on trade union rights. In practice, there are grave violations of workers’ rights, especially in the logging industry. Reportedly the Department of Labour interferes in industrial relations by seeking to prevent strikes. The law prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including origin and gender, however, discrimination in employment still occurs.
Papua New Guinea ratified both ILO Conventions No. 138 on Minimum Age of Employment and No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour and has set the minimum age for admission to work at 16. Although it is prohibited for children younger than 16 to perform hazardous work, night work and work in mines, there is no list of hazardous occupations established. In addition, children between the ages of 11 and 18 can work in family enterprises after a special permit is granted by the labour inspectorate and provided that it does not interfere with school attendance.
There are no legislative provisions in Papua New Guinea prohibiting the sale and trafficking of children for the purpose of labour exploitation. The Criminal Code establishes 15 years’ imprisonment or life imprisonment for obtaining or procuring a girl for commercial sexual exploitation, depending on the age of the girl involved. However, the Criminal Code does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring or offering of a child under the age of 18 for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. Although, it is expected that the government will soon pass the Child Sexual Assault Bill which will deal with many issues of children involved in commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography.
Neither does the Dangerous Drugs Act specifically prohibit the use, procuring or offering of a child for the production and trafficking of drugs. Nonetheless, the government has indicated in its correspondence with the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) that upcoming legal reforms will deal with this issue. It is also important to note that primary education is not free, compulsory, or universal. The gross primary enrolment rate is 55.2 per cent, but only 68 per cent of those children remain at school at the age of 10. Less than 20 per cent of the country’s children attend secondary school.
Child labour occurs in rural areas, usually in subsistence agriculture, and in urban areas in street vending, tourism and entertainment. It is reported that sometimes indebted families pay off their dues by sending children – usually girls - to their lenders for domestic servitude. “Adopted” children usually work long hours, lack freedom of mobility, are denied medical treatment and do not attend school. The CEACR reports that:
“Young girls are particularly vulnerable and, when brought into a household as juvenile babysitters, their role is very often transformed into overworked, unpaid or underpaid, multi-purpose domestic servants.”
Children working in entertainment were frequently vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. The authorities did not enforce the law efficiently partly due to lack of resources and training. Some efforts are being made to address some of these issues and the government is implementing a 4-year programme funded by the European Union (EU) for the withdrawal of children engaged in child labour and for building capacity of law enforcement officers. It is also implementing a National Action Plan against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children 2006-2011 and the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations (DLIR) has addressed child labour issues in partnership with the TACKLE Project of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour which aims at addressing the issue through education interventions.
As regards forced labour and trafficking, these are prohibited by law but provisions do not afford maximum protection and penalties are not stringent. Forced labour occurs in mines and logging camps, as well as in the form of forced prostitution and involuntary domestic servitude. The report finds that the country’s laws need to be updated and amended in order to offer better legal protection to workers, and to provide assistance to children at work and victims of trafficking and forced labour.
Anti-union practices are widespread in the logging industry, which is known for its extremely low wages and poor working conditions, including debt bondage and cramped and unhygienic accommodation of workers.
To download a copy of the detailed report, click here