Thursday, 29 June 2017 | 10:55 WIB

The Kind of Indonesian Gov‘t Intervention Needed in Labor Problem of Freeport

Over the past several years, labor strikes have hit PT Freeport Indonesia (FI), but the subsidiary of the US mining giant Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold has managed to find win-win solutions to the problems (Polowijo Gosari)

JAKARTA, NETRALNEWS.COM - Over the past several years, labor strikes have hit PT Freeport Indonesia (FI), but the subsidiary of the US mining giant Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold has managed to find win-win solutions to the problems.

Having operated the Grasberg mine in Papua, Indonesia's easternmost province since 1967, PT Freeport Indonesia is into the business of exploration, mining, processing, and worldwide marketing of minerals such as copper, gold, and silver.

PT FI, one of the three biggest gold and copper mines on the planet, has provided jobs to local people and supported developmental programs in Indonesias easternmost province of Papua. However, since May 1 this year, thousands of PT Freeport workers have been on strike following a dispute between the management and its labor union. 

The workers of Freeports contractors have also joined the strike. The labor union has even proposed to extend the strike until June 30, 2017. The dispute began when the government banned the company from exporting copper concentrate as it failed to build a smelter for its minerals. The company was forced to lay off many workers for efficiency as it had to stop production.

As a consequence, PT Freeport and its sub-contract companies fired more than 2.5 thousand workers.The layoff caused major concern for the authorities and the affected workers as well as their families, in particular.

Septinus Soumilena, Head of the Mimika manpower and transmigration office, said his office has tried its best to prevent the layoff by writing to the management of PT Freeport to cancel the layoff, but it was to no avail so far. The Mimika district government is also ready to act as soon as possible to facilitate a meeting between the management of PT Freeport and the leaders of labor unions. 

In fact, a group of workers of PT Freeport Indonesia staged a demonstration in early June in front of the Mimika district administration, demanding interference in their dispute with the management of the mining company.

Many of the striking workers, who have been dismissed after long absence from work, presented a nine-point demand during the demonstration. Among the points in the demand is that the government should be responsible for settling the working dispute with the management of PT FI.

They demand the government and the company to immediately reemploy the workers without any sanction. The workers include those laid off for efficiency. 

They also urged the company management to stop alleged discrimination and criminalization of workers taking part in the strike, unilateral dismissal of workers, and intimidation of the leaders of labor union. The district administration is asked to facilitate negotiations between the management of the workers.

Earlier, the district administration had already facilitated negotiations between the company management and the leaders of the workers, but the meeting ended in a disagreement. Besides, International Mining Workers Organization IndustriALL Global Union has sought to draw high-level attention to the protracted dispute between Freeport Indonesia and its striking workers.

A local labor union leader Tri Puspita remarked that IndustriALL Global Union has sent a letter to President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and to Freeport McMoRun leader Richard Adkerson in the United States to step in and settle the dispute.

"IndustriALL Global Union sent a letter to Jokowi on May 24, 2017, asking the Indonesian government to handle the labor problem in PT Freeport Indonesia. Letters are also sent to a number of related ministries and state agencies," Tri Puspita explained.

It has also sent similar letter to Adkerson, leader of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, the parent company of PT Freeport Indonesia. Secretary General of IndustriALL Global Union Valter Sanches, in his letter, urged Jokowi to ask the management of PT Freeport to give back the rights to the workers.

Sanches stated that PT Freeport has to re-employ those workers who have been dismissed earlier, including those dismissed over furlough program. Tri asked the government to step in to settle the problem especially there has been no attempt made for negotiations between the management of the company and leaders of the labor union after the last meeting end of April.

"We have been asked to return to work . In principle we want to work again but on condition, there is no layoff," Tri said. PT Freeport Indonesia's spokesman Riza Pratama said the management has twice asked the workers to return to work although they have been absent for five days.

The management said it would not reemploy workers who have repeated committing offenses despite warnings and sanctions especially those trying to intimidate loyal workers. Meanwhile, the Papua Police has said it can solely protect and maintain security in PT Freeport Indonesia in Papua while a strike is ongoing but will not interfere in the companys labor problem.

The solution to the manpower problem should be in line with Law No 13 of 2003 and its derivative regulations, Chief of the Papua Provincial Police Inspector General Boy Rafli stated in Mimika, recently. The deployment of police personnel around the company is solely to protect it and ensure that thousands of striking workers do not commit actions that could disadvantage others, he remarked.

"There has been a tripartite effort. For the labor problem particularly, there is a clear ruling in the Law on Manpower." He urged striking workers to abide by the law and to maintain order and security.