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IndustriALL mission to Indonesia finds human rights crisis for sacked workers

11 August, 2017The IndustriALL Global Union mission to Indonesia in solidarity with workers fired for striking at PT Freeport and PT Smelting, has revealed a human rights crisis, with workers losing access to food, housing, education and basic healthcare.

More than 4,200 workers at U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan’s PT Freeport, which operates the massive gold and copper Grasberg mine in West Papua, have been sacked for striking, while some 300 workers at PT Smelting in Gresik were fired after striking in January.

The mission, from 8-11 August 2017 included high-level leaders from IndustriALL trade union affiliates in Australia (AWU and CFMEU), the Netherlands (FNV), North America (USW) and South Africa (NUM). 

It met with leaders of Indonesian unions CEMWU SPSI, FPE SBSI and FSPMI, the Ministry of Manpower and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, as well as PT Freeport company management and Rio Tinto, which has an interest in the mine. PT Smelting – majority owned by the Japanese company Mitsubishi and of which PT Freeport owns 25 percent – refused to meet.

The Mission heard grave testimony on the treatment of PT Freeport workers, who the company says have “voluntarily resigned”:

“The mission has been informed that after firing the workers, the company has forcibly ejected the workers from company housing, denied them access to company hospitals and company schools, and has worked with local banks to restrict workers’ access to credit. We received the disturbing report that several workers and their family members who were denied medical care have died as a result. Many of the workers who lost their housing are now living in tents or the union’s offices,” said the IndustriALL mission in a statement on 11 August.

“Both PT Freeport and PT Smelting have treated the workers they fired inhumanely and with contempt. PT Smelting has refused to pay workers’ salary or benefits while their union contests their firing in court, notwithstanding a note from the provincial Ministry of Manpower asking the company to do so. PT Smelting has also repeatedly refused to negotiate with the workers’ union FSPMI to seek a negotiated solution for the dispute. FSPMI reports that the fired workers are now being treated worse in court hearings than terrorists, guarded by police carrying firearms and tear gas. These actions are clear violations of the workers' rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, established in ILO Conventions,” continued the statement.

In meetings with leaders from the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Minerals and Energy Resources on 9 August, the mission requested that they redouble their efforts to facilitate resolutions of the PT Freeport and PT Smelting disputes.

The Mission also called on PT Freeport and PT Smelting to immediately reinstate all the workers they have fired, then negotiate fair resolutions of the matters that provoked the workers to strike in the first place.

IndustriALL general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:

“These are not just labour disputes, these are not just violations of the right to strike, but this is a human rights crisis. PT Smelting has not paid strikers wages or benefits that they are entitled to for six months and families are suffering. PT Freeport is attempting to do serious harm to strikers, their families and their communities in order to crush the strike. This cannot continue. We urge both companies to reinstate the workers and urgently enter into negotiations before matters deteriorate any further. In the meantime, IndustriALL will discuss with its affiliates worldwide how to further support and escalate pressure on both companies.”

Read the full statement here.