Manus Island Paladin staff walk off the job

7:10 pm on 27 February 2019

Staff providing services to refugees on Manus Island have walked off the job in protest.

An empty guard post at West Haus.

An empty guard post at West Haus. Photo: Shaminda Kanapathi

Refugees in each of the three facilities used to detain about 600 men on the Papua New Guinea island reported that all staff, including those employed by controversial security contractor Paladin and Pacific International Hospital (PIH) had deserted their posts.

Award-winning journalist and Manus refugee Behrouz Boochani said the strike was prompted by anger from Paladin staff at the company's failure to reply to letter they had written.

"Paladin staff left, then PIH staff left, and all of the cleaners, the drivers, the people in the kitchens, everyone. So nobody is working on Manus Island," Mr Boochani said.

A Kurdish refugee at Hillside Haus, Benham Satah, said Paladin staff were striking over poor wages.

"All the gates are open. There is one police car that comes and goes," Mr Satah said.

"People are not scared. When security is here and when they are not here there is no difference," he said.

"At Hillside there were 50 Paladin security. They just sleep around the corridors. They do nothing."

The Guardian reported the staff had staged a sit-in in Lorengau on Tuesday morning.

It said a petition from employees of Pomwan Paladin Security, addressed to Paladin management, claimed they were being underpaid with no risk allowances added to the rates of $AU2-$3 an hour, or overtime paid for shifts of up to 12 hours.

At West Haus, Sri Lankan refugee Shaminda Kanipathi took pictures of empty guard posts and the unmanned gate. He said refugees there were worried for their safety.

"All of us are really panicked and stressed about our safety and protection. All of us are mentally unwell and most of the guys are sick here. We are really worried about at night time because it's not really safe here if there is no security or no staff to protect us," Mr Kanipathi said.

The unmanned gate at West Haus.

The unmanned gate at West Haus. Photo: Shaminda Kanapathi

Last week, the ABC revealed Paladin staff in Port Moresby were paid about $AU1.50 per hour, despite the company being awarded a controversial $AU423 million contract to provide security for the refugees.

Paladin staff in the capital were recently made redundant and forced to reapply for jobs with Paladin subsidiary Black Swan paying about 5 cents less per hour.

When asked about the strike action, Paladin advised RNZ Pacific it was unable to comment on the work it undertakes on behalf of the Australian government in PNG.

"I encourage you to direct any further queries to the Department of Home Affairs. Our number one priority and focus right now is the safety, security and well-being of our staff, the communities in which we operate and the people in our care."

The Department of Home Affairs is yet to reply for a request for comment. The governor and the police commander on Manus Island could not be reached.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that NKW Holdings was a subsidiary of Paladin.


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