The wages paradox here in Port Moresby

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wages situation here in PNG, lots of us talk about the same issues….

The big issue for our National staff is family commitments, with no social welfare, and very little in the way of significant employment, our teams by default start being the caregiver for their whole families. Where we in NZ get plenty of government assistance, Papua New Guineans are reliant on family or the village in order to live.

And here lies the paradox – the wage trap, the skill trap, the sole earner trap.

As soon as someone starts earning more, there is a lot more pressure to ensure that they are looking after everyone else. As income rises, so does the expectation. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that this happens, and maybe it’s a blueprint for crowd sourced social welfare. But the impact is significant, and as the expectation grows, the employee may start slipping in those standards that got them there in the first place. All of a sudden, they are the taxi driver, or the funeral director, or the university funder. So often I watch young Papua New Guineans drift from being the person at work first in the morning, to now not getting in on time due to having to drop off cousins, brothers, sisters etc, or ensuring that the family is OK. I worry that this will then turn into performance issues, then disciplinary action, then all of a sudden – the rising star with the big ideas and great opportunities ends up with no job, no money, and having to create a new start.

It is also amazing watching those that earn the least, being the ones getting themselves into work early, working hard, and doing their absolute best. They really need to keep their jobs, and having less money means a lessened impact on family commitments….

So today, I coined the phrase with Jono (one of my team) “the minimum for the maximum”

In other words, we need to get people to live the minimum way of life, to maximize their income, to maximize their opportunities, and to maximize their future. To work like they are just starting out, to live comfortably, and maximize the growth that they have by ensuring a future that exists for all.

Can it be done? I don’t know, but unless we do something for our young men and women, they may not be the future of this country, they may be those that just get chewed up…

9 thoughts on “The wages paradox here in Port Moresby

  1. I think it would have been important to discuss the won tok system also.

    Allow me to give an example;

    The girl from the tribe that speaks English well and is sent to school. She does well and lands herself a job in a bank, or on a cash register in a supermarket. 3 weeks into the job far removed Uncle Jim turns up with a blank cheque and tells her to cash it. She has three choices, 1) She cashes the cheque out with whatever money she can grab and fills in the cheque, knowing full well she will be sacked the second management discovers this, or 2) She refuses to do so and returns to the tribe where Uncle Jim and his friends rape and bash her and if she is lucky she lives, or 3) she abandons returning home.

    This is most common.

    And the wages that you refer to is not a paradox in the true sense.

    • As you have tried to remain completely anonymous, then please don’t assume to tell me what to blog about.

      And it’s wantok, not won tok….

      The wantok system is far more complex than your “example”, and yes, what you have put down as an example could easily be true. Much like the bloke in your country that beats the crap out of his son for not doing a job properly. I think you need to take some perspective here, the world over is not perfect, we all have our challenges. In most instances, the wantok “system” provides a far greater sense of belonging, but it also has it’s challenges.

      And what is a paradox? A paradox can be something that it isn’t, and wages, when they aren’t wages anymore is a paradox isn’t it?

  2. I just wanted to say what a great blog you have. I have spent the last few days reading every post. My family and I are considering an expat role to POM currently, and this blog has been a wealth of information. If we head over I will certainly make contact to say hello. Keep up the writing!

  3. A thought provoking post.

    It reminds me of the old PNG classic from the 80’s (90’s?) “There goes my pay” which tells the tale of the Waigani public servant and his paycheck (

    From my somewhat limited experience I found that amongst my staff and colleagues that the your proposition held true to a degree.

    Those with the least were the first in and rarely absent. However, in my workplace it more likely because of family expectations rather than the absence of them. Unlike the bulk of my staff who had university degrees and came from what could loosely be called the middle class, those with the least tended to be the sole bread winner and being docked a hour or two had real consequences for the family’s day to day existence.

    While the wantok system no doubt plays a critical role (especially in a sense of entitlement amongst men in senior positions), I found that generational change was moving the goal posts around family expectations in both positive and negative ways. The increase in women in the professional workforce is also challenging the old arrangements. The resistance to this challenge unfortunately all too often manifested itself in violence.

  4. I just discovered your blog and I must say I like reading it…

    Yes, the more you earn, the less you have.

    Wantok system has it’s benefits, but it can also be draining, and sometimes it can be a one-way thing. When I got made redundant during the global financial crisis, none of the people I used to help was there to help me, partly because they couldn’t, and I understand that, but it made me wonder about where I really should invest my money in future.

    The people who came to help me and support me during my job loss were my friends, not my family members (immediate or extended). And I had never supported my friends financially, other than having a BBQ and a beer with them.

    Anyway I got another job a year later and recovered, but this time my pay stays in my pocket and my time is spent with my friends. On several occasions, I went abroad to Australia and Bali to spend my money and my time. I couldn’t be happier. But guess what I lost? Yes, I lost my family, not so much my immediate family though. I know my mum and dad, and my sibblings hold no grudge against me, and we do talk every now and then, but I lost my extended family; uncles, aunts, cousins etc…because I refuse to play wantok system with them, especially if it is going to be a one-way transaction.

    So once upon a time, I earn more, and yet I have less money.
    And now, I earn more (and keep the money), but I have less family.

    It is still a paradox in one way or another.

    But at least I have friends, and I have some of the best friends in the world, that I can count on.

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