DEAR MR WARGIRAI - I am writing in response to your recent correspondence to Australia-based Kokoda Trail tour operators outlining the Kokoda Track Authority’s decisions and agenda for the 2019 trek season.
The welfare of guides and carriers is an issue I have been following for some time through media and predominantly online publications by Charlie Lynn OAM OL.
I view his conscientious efforts as intended to assist and support Trail management to improve and develop an effective, ethical, accountable and transparent trek tourism industry along the Kokoda Trail.
I support your expressed commitment to redeem relationships with landowners and monitor delivery of projects that will have a positive impact on the daily lives of Trail communities.
I note that ensuring a high order trekking experience is situated on your list of priorities.
On this point, I would like to share that, but for the spectacular natural environment and accommodating kindness of members of the Trail communities, my experience of trekking the Trail in August 2018 was less than satisfactory.
I was distressed with a lot of what I observed and heard as feedback, having engaged in direct dialogue with community members throughout the 10 days I was on the Trail.
My safety and well-being was entirely dependent on the professional, cohesive operations of the Adventure Kokoda team. Given the lack of safety measures and inadequate infrastructure from Owers Corner to Kokoda Plateau, the Adventure Kokoda guide and carriers were exemplary in their service delivery to the 16 Australian trekkers in my group.
I am appalled that the Papua New Guinean men, who have contributed so much to generating revenue and sustaining PNG’s prominent wartime trek tourism activity, continue to be a non-priority.
I am unclear as to whether you have been informed of the plethora of issues I raised about the current state of the Trail’s trek tourism, especially in my series of articles, ‘Trail of Woe’, that subsequently appeared in PNG Attitude.
Ongoing advocacy for the welfare of guides and carriers through independent voices such as mine is crucial for assisting KTA to develop trek activity that promotes ethical, responsible and sustainable tourism along Kokoda Trail.
Whilst KTA has previously failed to respond to my feedback, my articles did garner the attention of media including Radio New Zealand, the ABC Wantok program and the Pacific Media Centre who disseminated information about the unacceptable working conditions I observed.
Therefore, I am sure you can understand why I am alarmed that your recent letter made no reference to how KTA intends to uphold and protect the individual human and workplace rights of carriers and guides during the 2019 trekking season.
Having spent time listening to many carriers and guides along the Trail and informing them I would convey their angst to then chief executive James Enage, it is disappointing that, five months since my correspondence to KTA management, no action has been taken.
I recall at the Forum that Australian trek tour operators were insistent that KTA develop protocols for industry changes to occur and that a grace period of 12 months should be allowed before any proposed changes take effect.
Whilst I agree KTA protocols are imperative, the time frame enforced to ensure positive changes for Papua New Guinean carriers and guides should be decided by the Papua New Guinean leadership, not dictated by Australians using Papua New Guinean labour for trek tourism or social enterprise ventures along the Trail.
I understand the annual trek season commences in line with the Anzac Day commemorations and is the busiest season for trek tourism and PNG’s tourism sector.
I humbly refer you to review the ‘Trail of Woe’ series via this link. Please refer to the comments thread for additional links to access all articles.
Additionally, I request, on behalf of all the Papua New Guinean carriers and guides that KTA move promptly to develop and implement protocols for adherence by all Kokoda Trail trek tour operators.
It is requested that this takes effect before the Anzac 2019 commemoration trek period commences.
I believe KTA should enforce these requirements:
No Papua New Guinean carrier or guide will carry a pack in excess of 18 kilogram weight at any point along the 138 kilometres of the wartime Kokoda Trail for the duration of the trek tour.
Every Papua New Guinean carrier and guide be paid a daily rate of no less than K70. I understand that the daily rate of has not been adjusted since originally set by KTA. It is only reasonable that wages be adjusted to account for rising costs of living.
In addition to the daily rate, a ‘walk-home’ allowance of K250 be paid directly to the carrier or guide.
Every Papua New Guinean carrier and guide be issued with a zippered sleeping bag and a foam sleeping mat for every day they perform their duties along the Trail
Every Australian and Papua New Guinean trek tour operator nominate and organise the attendance of one carrier and one guide at the scheduled May 2019 KTA Forum in Port Moresby.
By including the voices of guides and carriers, KTA can be assisted to develop a permanent Trek Operator Non-Compliance reporting system that guides and carriers will feel comfortable and safe using.
This will ensure that the conduct of trek operators is closely monitored by KTA throughout this year and beyond.
I am confident that you will agree that 2019 must be the year Papua New Guinean carriers and guides are rightfully entitled to and should benefit equitably from revenue as Australian trek operators and the PNG tourism sector have done for many years.
I thank you for your time and consideration of the issues I have presented and look forward to your feedback.