Indonesia - Mine dismisses thousands for going on strike

The mining operator PT Freeport Indonesia laid off over 4,200 workers for taking strike action at its Grasberg mine in Papua between May and August 2017.

The dispute began on 1 May when over 10,000 mineworkers from the Chemical, Energy and Mines Workers Union (CEMWU) went on strike in protest at a furlough introduced by the company, putting workers on long-term leave at short notice. PT Freeport was in conflict with the Indonesian government over the long-term future of the mine, and was scaling back production to exert tactical pressure. The furlough was paid, but workers lost out on many benefits, including overtime and, crucially, housing, and workers feared they would not get their jobs back.

The company declared the strike illegal, even though the union followed due process in initiating strike action, and announced that any worker absent for five days would lose their job. Freeport claimed the mine was of national strategic importance and therefore all protests were banned. As time went on, the dismissals – or “voluntary resignations” as the company called them – multiplied.

The CEMWU wrote repeatedly to the company asking for negotiations, and to the government asking for intervention. It noted that the furlough was introduced unilaterally, with no consultation, and that workers were arbitrarily selected for the lay-offs. Those who lost their jobs and housing were also denied access to company hospitals and schools, and reportedly several people denied medical care died as a result.

The dispute attracted international support, including from IndustriALL global union, which launched a campaign. Finally, at the end of October 2017, Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights ruled that Freeport’s actions were a violation of human rights. It recommended the reinstatement of the workers, and compensation for their losses.

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