Clamor at luxury hotel highlights Papua New Guineans’ struggle to find work

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Clamor at luxury hotel highlights Papua New Guineans’ struggle to find work A general view of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby is shown in this Nov. 19, 2018 photo.
Saeed Khan/AFP

An ad on Facebook by one of Papua New Guinea’s largest hotels invited job seekers to front up for a “Walk-in Interview” on Saturday for positions from laundry attendants to chefs and security guards. 

Several thousand people responded, converging on the luxury Stanley Hotel in the capital Port Moresby in the rain, only to be turned away by an alarmed management.

The rowdy crowd, witnessed by a BenarNews reporter, eventually dispersed. Many people appeared frustrated and angry. Some had turned up at dawn with the hope they could work for an organization that the Facebook ad had characterized as “Simply the Best” in Papua New Guinea.

The clamor at the hotel was the front-page story for Papua New Guinea’s Post-Courier newspaper, which lamented the Pacific island country’s chronic lack of jobs. Last month, Papua New Guinea’s police said it received more than 20,000 applications for 560 positions it advertised late last year.

“A big thank you to everyone who came to our Walk-in Interview day,” the luxury hotel said in an online notice on Monday. “Due to the large numbers, it was impossible for us to meet all of you. If you would like to apply for a job, please email your CV and application or drop off your CVs to our guards at the staff entrance.”

The response to the job advertisement highlights the challenges for Papua New Guinea’s government as people increasingly move to towns and cities from rural subsistence living in the remote highlands – in search of economic opportunities or to escape tribal violence. 

“There aren’t enough jobs in towns,” said a statement Sunday from the office of Prime Minister James Marape.

“Since [independence in] 1975, we have not created a sufficient employment generating foundation for the benefit of our people,” the statement said. 

Marape promised a youth mobilization campaign that would involve the army and the National Volunteer Service.

The Stanley Hotel is owned by Malaysian logging company, Rimbunan Hijau Group, which also owns the National newspaper that is a frequent critic of Papua New Guinea’s government. 

Papua New Guinea, among the poorest Pacific island nations, also faces uncertainty about the size of its population. A recent U.N. Population Fund study estimated the population could be as high as 17 million compared with the government’s estimate of approximately nine million.

World Bank economist George Bopi said if the 17 million figure is correct, Papua New Guinea would be faring much worse than believed in terms of income per person and other indicators such as joblessness and the number of doctors, teachers and other professionals. 

Gross domestic product per head would be less than half of the current estimate and similar to Afghanistan, he said. 

“The bottom line is that accurate demographic data provide clear visibility on development investments and targets. We are flying blind as a nation,” Bopi said at a population seminar in Port Moresby last month.

The U.N. study was first reported by The Australian newspaper in December.  The fund declined to release the study to BenarNews or confirm the population estimate figure. A researcher in Papua New Guinea who has seen the study told BenarNews that the population estimate was 17 million.

The fund said the study, paid for by the Australian government, was carried out by the University of Southampton's WorldPop research group in conjunction with the fund and Papua New Guinea’s National Statistical Office. It was the first time the research group’s methodology had been used in a Pacific island country.

The data is being validated and the report is expected to be finalized later in 2023, the population fund said.

Papua New Guinea’s last census was in 2011. A census was planned in 2020 but not carried out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

National Statistician John Igitoi said last month that an updated estimate of Papua New Guinea’s population would be released in February.

Marape, in his statement, said people who’ve flocked to towns and cities should return to their villages and work on their land.

The country’s biggest opportunities for new employment are in agriculture, fisheries and tourism, he said.

“Even if we open 10 mines, oil and gas fields, the number of jobs they will create is still not enough to absorb our present population of youths coming out of schools which numbers between 100,000 to 200,000 a year,” he said.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.