Australia attracting PNG's skilled workers | Pacific Beat

Australia attracting PNG's skilled workers

Australia attracting PNG's skilled workers

Updated 30 October 2012, 18:10 AEDT

Australia's resources boom is employing record numbers of highly-trained Papua New Guineans fuelling a growing PNG expatriate community earning high-wages.

And Papua New Guineans have such a good reputation they are getting promoted faster than their Australian counterparts.

Latest estimates suggest up to 3000 skilled Papua New Guineans have moved to Australia.

Ben Imbun, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Management at the University of Western Sydney has been tracking their movements.

He told Jemima Garrett low wages in PNG are adding to the incentives to join the brain-drain.

IMBUN: They are doing blue collar workers to white collar managerial supervisory, mine geologists, engineers, so anything within that range, any job.

GARRETT: Papua New Guineans working in the resources industry are getting amazing pay in Australia. What did you find on that exactly?

IMBUN: Well amazing in terms of ah, I mean they are paid a lot a year in terms of comparing with what they get up there. They get a third of what an expatriate Australian or American or Canadian get up there. So when they have been trickling down and moving here they realise that they are paid as equal as anybody else. So whatever the extractive industry here is paying also covering the oil and gas. So I would think an average around 120 grand ok, so that's quite a lot.

GARRETT: So people are getting two-thousand dollars a week?

IMBUN: Yeah that was what I was told and I've circulated a form to them to fill in, and that's what they have ticked, most of them.

GARRETT: This is a bit of a boys club isn't it? How many women from Papua New Guinea are getting jobs in the resources industry in Australia?

IMBUN: It sounds like a boys club, in my interviews of the 45 I've interviewed, I've only interviewed one or two in fact, one was an engineer in Perth working for a mining company, and another one was a domestic cleaner or worker up in Queensland looking after the campsite as a supervisor.

GARRETT: You found Papua New Guineans are getting promoted faster than their counterparts with similar qualifications from Australia. What sort of stories were you hearing?

IMBUN: The ones that are coming here they are skilled and they have worked in some of those quite established mines in Papua New Guinea or even popular mines like Ok Tedi, Porgera, Lihir, and have a vast accumulation of experience. Then coming here you'd think they'd be on an even higher footing compared with Australians here. From my interviews I've realised that some of them are suited to managerial roles.

GARRETT: And you found also in the blue collar area that people were getting promoted faster, what sort of stories were you hearing there about their competence and why they were getting promoted?

IMBUN: Well ah that's really interesting. I've heard they're more competent in terms they have the skills to actually dismantle big huge machines and they can build from there in terms of overhauling or in terms of the engines and those kind of big hauling trucks that carry ores and all that once they've broken down, one or two can be able to fit everything together. So I'm like yeah, think their total competency based once they have assumed competency on one piece of thing, they have to move on and then they get specialised in different aspects. Up in PNG they are more generic or they are able to do everything.

GARRETT: You mentioned the low pay that Papua New Guineans get in Papua New Guinea compared to in Australia. This is creating a significant brain drain, what sort of impact is it having in Papua New Guinea to lose so many skilled workers?

IMBUN: It's happening, I'm surprised that it hasn't been noticed by the politicians or by the country yet, but it's amazing how these people have left.

GARRETT: Why do you think it isn't being noticed by the politicians?

IMBUN: It's interesting, so many things happen up there, so politicised, development politics, party politics, elections, everything seems to be so significant to them that I think, my opinion is that they do not sit down to really prioritise what's really happening, that's why a lot of the countrymen and women are here in Australia doing all these things, but it doesn't hit them yet.

GARRETT: We are seeing a slowdown in the Australian resources boom at the moment. What impact do you expect that to have on the number of Papua New Guineans? Are we likely to see some going home?

IMBUN: Obviously some would be going home and they would have had exposure here having mingled and having worked and having been treated as equal in terms of pay, they're exposed to a different environment and they would go as an expat I presume, some of them have already settled here in terms of getting permanent residency. And then going to other places as well. So surely they'll be going back home.

GARRETT: No matter how the boom goes, whether it slows or continues, the resources industry in both Papua New Guinea and Australia is going to continue to be a major economic force. What needs to be done in Papua New Guinea to get more people ready to take on these sorts of skilled jobs?

IMBUN: What needs to be done is more specialised, particularly technical colleges, poly-technic colleges need to be setup, and in fact there is one large one that is operating that resulted out of when prime minister John Howard was around. Papua New Guineans, in fact other Pacific Islanders were complaining about the visa restrictions and them wanting to come here, particularly to Australia, John Howard said that they can only come here if they actually had the skills that were required by Australia. So that resulted, the establishment of a poly-technic in various countries; one in PNG, one in Samoa, Vanuatu and all that, offering TAFE courses. A lot of things are happening with the university in Lae and mining in particular faculties. So yeah, things are happening but not in the quantity that the industry is currently anticipating.

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