Labor in Papua New Guinea

Indentured laborers were recruited to work in sugar plantations in Australia and Fiji, and the copra plantations of German Samoa, in the late 19th century.

From colonization in 1884 to the end of the World War II, laborers worked in copra and cocoa plantations and mines in Papua and New Guinea. In 1890 William MacGregor, the Administrator of British New Guinea, established the Armed Native Constabulary whose members accompanied Administration officials on patrols and helped enforce colonial law. The only other opportunities for employment outside villages available to local men before World War II (1942-45) were as ship’s crew, building construction workers, tradesmen, minor government officials and domestic servants. Some of the graduates of mission schools became missionaries and teachers. Occasionally women were employed as domestic servants and mission workers. The low level of education, and the perception of most Europeans that PNGans were intellectually inferior and incapable of learning Western skills, restricted their employment opportunities.

During World War II men were conscripted to work for both the Japanese and the Allied (American and Australian) forces. After the war educational and employment opportunities improved and more PNGans became integrated into the cash economy. This process was accelerated in the 1960s when more PNGans became cash crop smallholders, Bougainville Copper Ltd required skilled labor and the Administration began to prepare PNGans to take over positions in the public service. From the mid-1960s to the present there has been an active policy of “localization”training PNGans to take over most skilled and semiskilled jobs from Australians. To some extent, Australians have been replaced by whites from other English-speaking countries, or by Africans and Asians. An industrial relations system was established in the 1960s.

Because the modern sector of PNG’s economy is so small, only about 15 percent of the potential work force work for wages, and 35 percent receive some income from activities such as cash-crop production. The remainder is either wholly involved in subsistence activities or unemployed. The number of urban unemployed is growing rapidly. Of the total labor force approximately 75 percent are in the agriculture sector, 15 percent in services and 10 percent in industry.

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