To the outside observer reading of the spate of recent incidents involving land disputes and industrial action by workers, coupled with incidences of criminality and threats of violence at two or more of the Solomon's main industrial locations, the picture being painted overseas does not appear to auger well for the economic recovery the government might be expecting to receive from the industrial sector, including returns from the logging industry.
The repatriation during last week of over 250 Temotuans who had been working at the Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Limited (GPPOL) following ongoing threats simply compounds the concerns.
In yet another matter involving an alleged land dispute in South Malaita, some 14 houses at the Arai logging camp were reported to have been torched. The police are said to have arrested 19 suspects for the arson attack and they have been bailed to await trial.
The Commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) has set up a 38 member task force to monitor the situation on the island of Guadalcanal, including the Gold Ridge Mining (GRML) location.
From all accounts the actions of the police have been commendable and several arrests have been made with support from the general public. Making arrests for breaches of the law is the duty of the police but involvement in dispute resolution, is not, essentially, a police responsibility.
The Solomon Islands National Union of Workers (SINUW) was instrumental in brokering a return to work of striking workers at the GRML site, but even a traditional reconciliation ceremony at GPPOL failed to stop the Temotuan workers from returning home.
It is regrettable that the country continues to suffer from land disputes, worker grievances and acts of criminality occurring at the main industrial centres and raises the question as to whether or not there is the need for an independent dispute resolution and arbitration commission to be created, if one is not already in existence.
Such a suggestion does not distract from the good work undertaken by SINUW but the scope of a resolution and arbitration commission should have a much broader mandate than protecting workers rights, it should have the scope to examine and adjudicate on the concerns of land owners, management and employees with, of course, legal powers and functions.
Solutions to ongoing Industrial Disputes
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Frank Short and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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