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Thiess, Operating in Indonesia, Uses Police to Bludgeon Striking Coal Miners

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1 April, 2012


Indonesia’s largest coal producer, PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), through its mine services contractor Thiess Pty. Ltd. of Australia, has brutally attacked members of two ICEM-affiliated mine unions through police and military force. The dispute dates to the fourth quarter of 2011 when miners working for KPC, part of Indonesia’s Bumi Resources, first took strike action when it became obvious that neither Thiess nor KPC intended to grant a renewal collective agreement.

But the dispute at KPC’s Sangatta mine in Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo turned violent on 24 March when 400 striking workers gathered at the coal company’s office in East Kutai district on the counsel of a local citizens group to offer themselves back to work following a second strike dating to last November.

They were immediately attacked by a regional military brigade serving the interests of Thiess and KPC. Twenty miners were severely beaten and hospitalised. Another 12 were immediately detained and throughout the night of 24 March and into the next day, police and military rounded up another four union leaders and jailed them.

By this weekend, most of the unionists had been released but police and regional military are still holding two union leaders, the Vice President of the local branch of ICEM affiliate Chemical, Energy, Mines, Oil & Gas Workers’ Union of FSP-KEP, Sumardi, and the Secretary, Maxi.

The leader of FSP-KEP, D. Patombong Sjaiful, called the situation now “critical” and pleaded that global trade union attention is given this grievous repression by brute force. In the second time in a fortnight, Jakarta-based FSP-KEP today dispatched a mission to east Kalimantan province, this time to win the freedom of the two remaining unionists.

The other ICEM-affiliated organisation with membership at KPC is the regional mining and energy union FPE, part of the Indonesian confederation SBSI. Some 2,200 miners work at KPC’s two open-cast thermal coal mines of Sangatta. FSP-KEP has some 1,400 members, while FPE has 200. KPC also consists of five smaller mines at the nearby Bengalon mine.

The dispute began following the expiration of a two-year agreement on 5 October 2011. Thiess Indonesia management foretold its strategy to eliminate the collective agreement by telling the unions a new agreement would not be valid until after negotiations were complete. And then the stalling began.

The mineworkers’ only choice was to strike and the first work stoppage occurred from 10 November to 27 December, from which six union leaders were sacked. When the two sides finally did return to bargaining on 28 January 2012, union leaders were summoned to police offices in East Kutai district where they were surprised to see that the police commander representing the company in talks.

Two days earlier, KPC sent a letter that the status of the six union leaders would not be on the agenda. Miners began a work slowdown resulting in 264 workers getting the sack that, in turn, caused a second strike.

When Sjaiful and other FSP-KEP leaders visited in mid-March, an agreement was sorted out between the police, a local parliamentarian, and the citizens’ group calling for the strike to cease, recall of the dismissed workers, and a return to negotiations.

But Thiesse and KPC rejected that. When strikers came to the company’s offices then on 24 March, they were met by police and the mobile brigade wielding batons and other instruments of force.

The ICEM condemns Thiess, part of Australian Leighton Holdings Ltd. (LEI), whose ultimate parent is the German global construction giant Hochtief AG, for utilising police and military intervention to avert legitimate collective negotiations. It also holds Bumi Resources accountable for this contemptible display of anti-social conduct in its home country.