RNZI Posted at 07:32 on 14 July, 2011 UTC
Striking workers at Freeport-McMoran’s gold and copper mine in Indonesia’s Papua province have returned to work after their union said the firm agreed to its demands in the latest round of talks.
The estimated 7-thousand workers had been demanding higher wages and were protesting against the dismissal of six union leaders.
Their eight-day strike crippled operations at the remote Grasberg mine, which contains the world’s largest recoverable reserves of copper and the biggest single gold reserve. Johnny Blades reports that Freeport’s Papua staff work under uniquely difficult conditions:
Freeport management has granted the reinstatement of the sacked unionists, and has agreed to further negotiations on wage rates.
Nick Chesterfield of West Papua Media Alerts says no real concessions have been made to the workers who are said to be paid up to 10 times less than what other Freeport workers around the world earn.
“People who are working significant hours, and their welfare is not being looked after. They’re only earning about a dollar-fifty (US) an hour for extremely dangerous conditions. They wanted their pay to be raised to three dollars. Freeport are out there, making massive amounts of profit and not giving anything back to the workers or the people.”
Not all employees at Freeport were happy with the industrial action.
One non-striking worker who wishes to remain unnamed warns that any wage increases would incur a cost for the local community.
“It will be impact to other sub-contractors for Freeport. They will lose their jobs because their company cannot pay for the high salary in their company like Freeport. And the other people in Timika – like police, like local government, community – will get a problem because for meals, for transportation, for gasoline, the price will rise up like that.”
Freeport workers have recently been demanding guarantees of safety at Grasberg.
An Indonesian human rights activist, Andreas Harsono, says the deaths of two staff in an attack in April are still fresh in workers’ memories.
“They also had a strike last year, demanding better security. The problem with security in Freeport is not always coming from the West Papua guerilla fighters. Sometimes it also comes from Indonesian security forces. The Indonesian military police used to be bought earlier this year but the ones who shot (workers) at Freeport mine were actually three Indonesian soldiers.”
Andreas Harsono hears many complaints from Freeport personnel about the conduct of the Indonesian security forces around the mine.
There are 3,000 of these forces in the area and the soldiers tend to act as a law unto themselves.
“The solders sometimes go beyond their duties like selling protection, involved in illegal alcohol sales, prostitution, and of course hunting, because it is so difficult to control the soldiers in the jungle and mountains around Freeport.”
For the strike to end, the union wanted Freeport’s Indonesia CEO Armando Mahler to be included in negotiations over pay.
Union leaders say Mr Mahler will be involved intermittently in pay talks, which are due to start next week