PT Freeport Indonesia has terminated 2,018 workers taking strike action at the massive Grasberg copper and gold mine in the Indonesian province of West Papua.
Workers at the mine commenced strike action on 1 May against the company’s furlough policy. The union announced on 24 May that the strike would continue for another month. The company has now terminated the contracts of 2,018 striking permanent workers.
After a longstanding dispute with the Indonesian government over export licenses, PT Freeport Indonesia, the local subsidiary of Phoenix, USA-based Freeport-McMoRan (FCX), placed about 10 per cent of its workforce on furlough - long term leave - to save costs. Freeport employs 12,000 permanent workers, and 20,000 contractors. The union believes the terminations are part of the company's negotiating strategy with the government.
Management has said workers on furlough have no chance of returning to work. 1,100 workers accepted a voluntary separation programme.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Chemical, Energy and Mines Workers Union (CEMWU SPSI PTFI) embarked on strike action against the unilateral imposition of the furlough policy, which is a violation of the collective agreement.
Freeport refused to recognize the legality of the strike, and announced that it would consider striking workers absent without leave. Workers absent for more than five days will be deemed to have accepted "voluntary resignation". So far, Freeport has issued 2,018 “voluntary resignation” notices, with a final payment of just one month’s salary, regardless of length of service. Some workers received negative amounts, as they have outstanding debts to the company.
Dismissing workers for taking strike action is a violation of ILO core labour standards.
The terminated workers include 634 Papuan workers, and 1,384 non-Papuan workers. The situation is volatile. A union activist described it is as a “human tragedy for the Timika-Papua area", with a “big possibility to initiate civil unrest, due to the socio-economic impact”.
The status of West Papua is contested, with an independence movement accusing Indonesia of plundering resources. The Indonesian army has been paid by Freeport to provide security for the mine, and violence has broken out in the past.
IndustriALL is concerned that the volatile situation may result in an outbreak of violence that will be difficult to contain. Referring to the massacre of striking mineworkers in South Africa in 2012, Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director said:
“The situation is very tense. We need to intervene urgently to prevent another Marikana.”
IndustriALL wrote to the CEO of Freeport-McMoRan earlier in May, but the company dismissed the contents of the letter. General secretary Valter Sanches wrote to the company again today, alerting the company to the crisis created by its subsidiary:
“I am compelled to launch an urgent appeal to you to intervene at PT Freeport Indonesia in Grasberg to help avert a social disaster in the community, resulting from the dismissal of more than 2,000 workers, and prevent any violence that might erupt, as a direct result of the callous and intransigent stance of your subsidiary.
“PT Freeport Indonesia must reinstate immediately the 2,018 permanent workers that were unlawfully dismissed on 22 May, in addition to the 1,100 previously dismissed workers.
“PT Freeport Indonesia should address the legitimate demands of the workers at Grasberg as a precondition for the workers to discontinue the strike.”
IndustriALL also wrote to the Indonesian President, asking for urgent intervention and raising the prospect of raising violations of workers' rights at this years' International Labour Conference in Geneva, saying:
"We hope that it will not be necessary to draw attention to the gross violations of workers’ rights at Grasberg to the more than 4,000 delegates attending the International Labour Conference in Geneva from 5 to 16 June 2017.
"In consequence, we urge you, in your capacity as President of the Republic of Indonesia, to intervene immediately to facilitate and ensure a fair, sustainable, and peaceful resolution of this conflict, which is severely."
CEMWU met with the US Embassy in Jakarta today to urge them to intervene and encourage Freeport to agree to the union proposal to set up a Special Arbitration Panel. CEMWU also met with the Manpower ministry.
IndustriALL is asking affiliates, particularly those in the mining and base metals sectors, to send a letter of protest to the Government of Indonesia. Please send the attached protest letter. Put it on your union’s letterhead, insert your union’s name in the first sentence, add a signature and send it to the email addresses listed at the top of the letter.