Indentured Labor in Papua New Guinea

In the late 19th century men were indentured to work on plantations within Papua New Guinea and in Australia, Fiji and German Samoa. Some went willingly and some were taken by force or persuaded by fraud. The practice of kidnapping laborers to work overseas was known as blackbirding. When Britain established the Protectorate of New Guinea in 1884 it adopted a policy of protecting the people from gross exploitation. The indentured laborers working on plantations in Australia were repatriated. Recruitment for overseas plantations was forbidden and conditions of employment of labor by plantation managers and miners were established. This policy was continued in Australian Papua from 1906 until indentured labor was abolished after World War II.

Conditions were much harsher in German New Guinea (1884-1914) which had been founded with a clear intention of exploiting local labor. Laborers continued to be indentured from German New Guinea to work in German Samoa until 1913. When Australia took over the German colony after World War I, Australian and British plantation managers and miners persuaded the Administration to allow them to continue practices and conditions inherited from the German administration.

The indentured labor system disrupted village life economically and socially. When men were away women undertook tasks that were usually the responsibility of men. Thus, the labor of village women subsidized the indentured system. Men returned at the end of their contracts with Western goods, a knowledge of Western ways and a status in society that they might not otherwise have had.

Industrial Relations in Papua New Guinea

An industrial relations system, modeled on the Australian system, was introduced in the 1960s. The system required input from employer and employee organizations and the administration. The employer organizations and the administration were organized but most of the employees were not. The colonial Administration gave some advice to fledgling workers’ associations; some Australian trade unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions gave assistance, especially to waterside workers, seamen and public servants. The 47 unions registered under the Industrial Organisations Ordinance between 1963 and Independence in 1975 were very small and mostly regionally based. Few held properly constituted elections or kept accurate records.

The situation did not change significantly after Independence. The most effective unions have been the Bougainville Mining Workers’ Union, Ok Tedi Mining Workers’ Union, the Waterside Workers’ and Seamens’ Union, the Teachers’ Union and the Public Employees’ Association. The Industrial Organisations Ordinance requires unions to register with the Department of Labour and Employment. About half of PNG’s 58 unions are members of the Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress. Most major employers are members of the Employers’ Federation of Papua New Guinea. In 1992 wages were high and working conditions good in comparison with other developing countries. At Independence in 1975 PNG inherited an Australian style wage system which included overtime loadings and leave provisions not usually found in Third World countries. Between 1972 and 1975 real wages more than doubled.

Until 1992 PNG had a central wage fixing system. In 1992 the government accepted the Minumum Wages Board recommendation that, for new entrants to the work force, there should be a national minimum wage of K22.96 per week and variations in the minimum wage should be through direct negotiation between employers and employees. The change is expected to reduce wages.

Institute of Human Biology of Papua New Guinea

The Institute was established in 1968, by a House of Assembly ordinance, as a center for biological and medical research and sociological aspects of health. The Institute has headquarters at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands. It is funded by government grants and private endowments and staffed by expatriate and PNG scientists.

Irian Jaya

Irian Jaya, which covers the western half of the island of New Guinea, and shares a 725-kilometer border with PNG, has been an Indonesian province since 1963. The terrain, climate, flora and fauna are much like PNG. The people are mainly Melanesian and Christian, and the Christian missions run schools and provide health services. The official language is Bahasa Indonesia and there are several hundred local languages. There are nine administrative districts. The capital is the coastal town of Jayapura which is only 65 kilometers west of Vanimo, the headquarters of the Sandaun Province of PNG.

The Indonesian goverment has been encouraging migration to Irian Jaya, mainly from the overcrowded island of Java. Some Melanesians oppose the Indonesian government and a rebel group, Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), was formed to fight for Irian Jayan independence. Thousands of Irian Jayans have fled into PNG to escape fighting between the OPM and Indonesian troops. In 1986 PNG accepted the 1951 United Nations Convention on refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees became involved in the screening and supervision of voluntary repatriation, and subsequently, the resettlement of some refugees within PNG. Repatriation was continuing in the second half of 1993.

Jant Timber Company

Jant, a subsidiary of a Japanese company, signed an agreement with the colonial Administration in 1971 to exploit the timber resources of the Gogol region of Madang Province. In spite of opposition from the local people, who had not been consulted about the project, logging began in 1973. Some of the people were concerned by the physical destruction of the environment, including the removal of clay from which they made pots which were an important item of trade. Others were concerned that they were receiving low royalty payments and were not being given employment opportunities with the project. These concerns were not addressed by the national government after Independence in 1975 and the company was still operating and the local people still complaining in 1993.

Joint Declaration of Principles

The Joint Declaration of Principles (JDP) signed by the Australian Prime Minister, Robert J. L. Hawke, and the PNG Prime Minister, Paias Wingti, in December 1987 formalized a new phase in the PNG/Australia relationship. The JDP covers a wide range of issues, including defense, trade, investment, development assistance, consular relations, communications and border administration. Where necessary, these issues are reviewed at the PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum of which there had been five meetings to December 1992. In 1992 the JDP was revised to include references to the Agreed Statement on Security Cooperation and the Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments.

Kokoda Track

The Kokoda Track or Trail is a rough and narrow foot track through the Owen Stanley Ranges which the Japanese hoped to use as a route to capture Port Moresby, the capital of Papua, in World War II. The Japanese reached Kokoda, about 100 kilometers from Port Moresby, in July 1942. Between Kokoda and Imita Ridge, about 30 kilometers from Port Moresby, they met stiff resistance from Australian troops supported by Papuan carriers, stretcher-bearers and armed police. The rugged terrain, cold and rain made fighting extraordinarly difficult. There were heavy casualties on both sides and many died from disease. The Japanese failed to take Imita Ridge and between September and December 1942 were forced to retreat to the northeast coast.

Kokoda Track Map
Kokoda Track Map

Tom Cunningham, winner of the Do Kokoda and High Sierra Ultimate Adventurer competition trekked the Kokoda Trail in September 2016. The first person to ever take a drone on the trek, Tom captured the beauty of the landscape and shared his Kokoda experience.

More about Kokoda Track:

Last edited by Sam on September 16, 2017

Kuk Swamp

Kuk Swamp is an archaeological site near Mt Hagen in Western Highlands Province. Excavation has uncovered a complex series of drainage ditches, the earliest of which appear to date back to some 9,000 years ago. No remains of food crops have been recovered from early levels at the site. It is believed, nevertheless, that even the earliest drainage ditches were associated with the growing of food plants. This, if true, means that plant domestication and horticulture developed in the highlands of New Guinea at roughly the same time as it did in Southeastern or Western Asia and possibly earlier. In other words, the highlanders of New Guinea were among the earliest, perhaps the very earliest gardeners in the world.