Freeport workers in Indonesia vow to halt production

JAKARTA — Workers at one of the world’s largest gold and copper mine in the remote Indonesian province of Papua vowed Friday to paralyse production, as their strike over pay enters its second month.

Workers at the Grasberg mining complex run by US giant Freeport-McMoran began a month long strike on September 15, demanding at least an eight-fold increase in the current minimum wage of $1.5 an hour.

“If we don’t get the pay increase we want, our goal is to stop production by November 15,” said Virgo Solossa, spokesman for the workers’ union, which extended the strike by a month on Thursday.

“Freeport has tried to intimidate us to go back to work, but we won’t until they are open to a fair negotiation,” he told AFP, adding that at least 8,000 of the company’s 23,000 workers would remain on strike.

The Arizona-based company said it was “disappointed” by the union’s decision, “which has no basis under Indonesian law”.

It added that some workers were gradually returning to work, “allowing the company to scale up mine production, milling production and concentrate sales”.

Production at Grasberg, one of the world’s largest sources of gold and copper, has suffered considerably since the strike.

Production in the first week of the strike last month was slashed by 230,000 tonnes a day, representing daily losses of $6.7 million in government revenue.

Slowing production at Grasberg, coupled with a spate of strikes at Freeport’s South American mines, has raised concerns of a global copper shortage, analysts said.

Freeport’s Papuan workers, who are mostly indigenous Melanesians, receive the lowest wages of any Freeport mining facility in the world, according to union workers.

The current lowest wage is $1.50 an hour, which workers want raised to $12.50, the union said. The workers want the maximum hourly rate of $3.50 to rise to $37.

The union had originally demanded a minimum of $17.50 and a maximum of $43.

“We have followed all the right procedures to strike, which is our right. So we hope the company will make a fairer offer soon,” Solossa, the union spokesman, said.
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