Increased Pressure On Freeport Strikers


Workers at West Papua’s Grasberg mine have been in intense negotiations for wage increases with Freeport Indonesia management since July this year. To break the strike, Freeport management yesterday issued a statement offering to provide a financial incentive for those who can convince striking workers to go back to work.

New Matilda was forwarded this SMS by a union official, which was sent to him by Freeport management: "The Pulang Kampung (back to the village) program has started. For those who can convince workers who are on strike, a special incentive will be provided of up to IDR 10 million (US$1136) per worker. Let’s support this program and use this incentive for our family and friends."

The latest meeting between the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI) Freeport division and Freeport management took place on 21 October in the Gold and Copper room of the prestigious Rimba Hotel in Timika. It was initiated by the head of the Mimika district local government. The negotiation took nine hours but ended in deadlock after Freeport Indonesia Vice Executive, Sinta Sirait, rejected a call by SPSI chief negotiator, Sudiro, for striking workers to be fully paid while on strike.

Although the SPSI has again lowered its demand for a wage increase for its members from US$12 to $7.50 per hour, management said that they cannot further proceed with negotiations unless the union agrees to lift its blockade on roads that are used to supply logistics to the mining areas, and stop the strike.

Since the strike started on 15 September, it has had a huge impact on Freeport Indonesia’s operation. Freeport’s enthusiasm to see the strike concluded is demonstrated by its offer to pay workers to break the strike.

The company has reportedly lost 1361 metric tons of copper and 5000 ounces of gold a day because of the strike. The Indonesian government estimated a potential loss of 230,000 tons of ore a day.

The negotations have taken place against a disinformation campaign by the Indonesian security forces which has tried to link the strikers to violence in the region.

On the same day as the most recent negotiations took place, a contract worker and two gold panners were shot dead early in morning at a post called Mile 39, about 100 metres from Ajikwa river. The dead bodies of the gold panners — 25-year-old Yunus, a resident of Buton and 30-year-old Eto , of Ambon — were found in their lodges. The third victim was identified as Alosius Margana, a driver who had been hired to replace one of the striking workers. His body was found in the same area.

Indonesian Police spokesperson, Anton Bachrul Alam, told the Jakarta Globe that "around 10 people were involved in the attacks, and that police and soldiers had been deployed to locate them". Alam also said "based on the shell casings collected from the scenes, the assailants were thought to have used M16s, AK-47s or SS1s, the standard assault rifles used by the Indonesian military".

In an email sent to New Matilda in response to an earlier shooting of Freeport workers on 15 October, Albar Sabang, SPSI Freeport Indonesia Secretary said "We don’t know who shot the workers, but the police and Indonesian military guard the area".

But the Indonesian security apparatus is keen to scapegoat and discredit the separatist movement in West Papua by linking it to acts of violence.

Recently, the Jakarta Globe reported that the National Liberation Army of Free Papua Organisation (OPM/TPN) had been blamed by police officials for recent deadly ambushes on vehicles near Freeport in Mimika. OPM guerrillas were also blamed for an ambush that killed Dominggus Awes, a Mulia subdistrict police chief Adjutant Commander, at Mulia airport apron yesterday. The OPM denies involvement.

The security apparatus has a clear interest in showing that the OPM/TPN is behind the shootings. If it is successful in doing so, it may to able to shift the media focus away from the strike actions and toward the conflict for independence.

Both the SPSI and the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) have denied a connection between the shootings and the workers’ struggle.

The negotiations between the union and Freeport management continue this week.

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