Union to press for Freeport mine worker rights on Indonesia visit

About 4,000 employees 'voluntarily resigned': Company
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 08/04/2017
Labour relations
Trucks are seen on a road in the Grasberg copper and gold mine operated by an Indonesian subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Inc, near Timika, Papua province. REUTERS/M Agung Rajasa/Antara Foto

TORONTO/JAKARTA (Reuters) — A trade union said on Wednesday that it will press Indonesia's government to reinstate thousands of striking workers at Freeport-McMoRan's Grasberg mine when union officials visit the Southeast Asian country next week.

IndustriALL Global Union said in an emailed statement that it would formally announce plans on Thursday for its mission to support striking workers at Grasberg — the world's second-largest copper mine — and a smelter jointly owned and operated by Freeport and Mitsubishi Materials.

"We will demand that the government uphold fundamental labor standards," said IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary, Kemal Özkan. IndustriALL says it represents 50 million workers in 140 countries worldwide and has previously worked to highlight safety and pay issues in Southeast Asia's garment industry.

A Jakarta-based spokesman for Freeport Indonesia did not answer calls or immediately respond to questions on the matter, but said last month that laid off workers may be reinstated.

"We are giving an opportunity to striking employees to join recruitment via our contractor," Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama told Reuters last month.

Arizona-based Freeport, the world's biggest publicly-traded copper miner, has repeatedly said it has acted on labour issues in accordance with Indonesian law and its labour contract.

Following export restrictions related to a permit dispute, Freeport furloughed some 3,000 workers in Indonesia earlier this year, which prompted a strike and high levels of absenteeism.

Freeport later deemed that approximately 3,000 full-time and 1,000 contract employees who were absent had "voluntarily resigned."

"We are using this as an opportunity to really deal with some workforce issues that have been with us for some time now," Freeport Chief Executive Richard Adkerson said on a call with analysts on July 25.

"We've got support from the authorities," he said.

An estimated 5,000 workers at Grasberg have extended their strike for a fourth month, to the end of August.

As a result of "reduced manpower levels" at Grasberg, Freeport said it had missed its second-quarter sales target and revised down an earlier 2017 sales outlook by approximately 150 million pounds (68,039 tonnes) of copper and 320 thousand ounces (9,071.85 kg) of gold.

Freeport is now "taking steps to increase its workforce in order to restore normal operating rates," it said.

The union said it would meet with senior management from Freeport's Indonesian unit and heads of the affected Indonesian unions in Jakarta on Aug. 10. Union representatives would also meet with officials from Indonesia's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Manpower during the Aug. 8-11 visit.

A local union official in Jakarta confirmed the planned visit.

IndustriALL said it wants the government to declare Freeport's furlough illegal, while recognizing that workers went on a legal and legitimate strike and did not "voluntarily resign."

The union has previously said 309 workers at PT Smelting were also deemed to have "voluntarily resigned" after taking part in a strike.

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