Strike prolonged in controversial Papuan mine

Strike for higher wages in world’s most profitable mine set to become longest stoppage in Indonesian history.

Papua strike
Employees of the US-based Freeport company are among the most lowly paid miners in the world [EPA]

Union workers at Freeport Indonesia’s Grasberg copper mine said they could extend their strike by another month, which would make it the longest mining stoppage in the country’s history.

The controversial Grasberg mine is the most profitable mine in the world, and yet the miners argue their wages are the lower than in other countries.

Workers had been due to end a two-month strike over pay on November 15, but union officials said on Wednesday that the dispute that has slashed production and disrupted shipments from the world’s second-biggest copper mine could now last until December 15.

“If we fail to find a solution, we can extend the strike and be protected by the law. We have already informed all parties this on November 2,” Virgo Solossa, a union official, told the Reuters press agency.

A day earlier, the union said it would consider almost halving its pay demands if the firm agreed to an extra increase when workers are promoted, which appeared to be a step towards resolving one of Indonesia’s worst industrial rows.

Workers at the Freeport-McMoran mine were demanding a sevenfold increase on the current minimum wage of $1.50, but have lowered their demand to $4 an hour. The union is also seeking that striking workers who had been sacked be reemployed.

The latest offer from Freeport management is reportedly $3 an hour.

The strike at the mine located in the remote Papua region, forced Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold to declare force majeure on concentrate shipments in late October and raised doubts it can meet fourth-quarter output and sales targets.

Strike is ‘going to escalate’

Damien Kingsbury, an expert on Indonesia and an analyst of conflict resolution, told Al Jazeera that workers wanted to have their work, and the high cost of living in the mining area, taken into into account.

“Freeport makes an enormous amount of money out of its mining syndicate, and they just want a small share of that,” he explained. “It really is going to escalate if there’s not a resolution very soon.”

Indonesian police have tried to break up protests by workers and local tribal groups, who have joined the strikers to protest over broad grievances against Freeport. Two strikers were killed in October after police opened fire on a gathering with assault weapons, both the union and the company have confirmed.

Police killed two striking miners employed by US company Freeport McMoran in Timika, West Papua [EPA]

In light of the most recent killings in the context of the strike, the United Steelworkers (USW) called on the US justice department to launch an urgent investigation into the most recent allegations that the company has bribed security forces.

Freeport has in the past acknowledged paying Indonesian military and police, implicated in decades of serious human rights violations, arguing that this is necessary to ensure the security of its employees.

In Kingsbury’s view, the money going towards security is part of what is motivating the company to pay such low wages to its miners.

“The firm has decided it doesn’t want to pay [higher salaries] because it’s paying money to other people. It’s paying money to the police force in West Papua, it says that it’s not paying money to politicians but many people suggest that it is, so it has a number of overheads,” the analyst said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies