By RIGGO NANGAN
PRODUCTION at the New Britain Palm Oil Ltd’s sugar plant at Gusap, Madang, stopped when more than 100 seasonal workers walked off their jobs in protest over pay and working conditions on Wednesday morning.
More than 100 tractor drivers and harvester operators, who started work in May, refused to jump onto their machines when the bell rang for the start of another working day of the 2010 sugar harvest season.
The stop work had forced the sugar production process and the milling to grind to a halt for two consecutive days, while their demands were being negotiated between their representatives
and the company management.
The seasonal employees argued over three main reasons, the two off-days imposed by the company be repealed, double-time be paid on weekends especially Saturdays and Sundays of the pay weeks, and their grading systems be increased from the current 3.1 to 4.1 and upwards.
They claimed that the two off-days were unnecessary because it had dropped their total hours from 112 to 96 a fortnight, which contributed to a drop in their wages.
“We are seasonal workers and we do not need day-offs, after the harvest we can go back to our villages and rest,” they said.
They said the old system with the former employer, Ramu Sugar cum Ramu Ari-Industries Ltd, was much better.
The seasonal employees met with the executives of the company’s national employees union until late yesterday afternoon to present their grievances.
Agriculture manager, Paul Wyatt, had referred The National to the public relations officer, Sharon Onsa, when contacted to comment on the matter yesterday.
Onsa on the other hand, could not be reached most of yesterday as she was involved in the distributing of Fun Run T-shirts to schools between Lae and Gusap.
The harvesting and transporting of cut sugar cane from the fields to the factory comes directly under agriculture department.