Violence plagues Freeport’s Grasberg mine

Three contractor workers died and two security personnel were wounded at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold‘s (fcx-n) Grasberg copper-gold mine in Indonesia’s Papua province on Oct. 14.

As reported by Reuters the local police believe “unidentified gunmen” shot dead two men and killed another by burning him inside a car.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., the company’s media spokesperson, Eric Kinneberg,  emailed a list of statements to The Northern Miner, saying the company became aware of the incident around 3:40 p.m. Papua time, and is assisting the police’s investigation.

“We received a report that a shooting incident took place on the east levee in the lowlands project area… Initial reports indicate that gunshots were fired by unknown gunmen resulting in three fatalities of contractor personnel and injuries to two other security personnel. We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives of our fellow co-workers and our condolences go out to their families.”

It’s unclear if the violence stemmed from the ongoing labour strike at the Grasberg mine, or from the more than 40-year-old struggle by Papuans to break away from Indonesia, leaving a majority of the indigenous Melanesian population opposing the Indonesian government and its allies, such as Freeport.

Kinneberg said in a separate email that the company is “not aware of any indication” that the recent shooting is related to the strike at Grasberg.

Freeport’s unionized staff, including 8,000 hourly employees, seeking higher wages walked off the job on Sept. 15. The strike was initially set to last 30 days, however, following a recent clash of strikers with armed forces, which left one miner dead and 10 injured, caused workers to extend the strike to Nov. 15.

On Oct. 11, Xinhua reported thousands of PT Freeport Indonesia (PT-FI) workers, heading to protest a day earlier, were blocked by policemen at the Gorong-Gorong bus terminal in Timika.

Infuriated, the workers threw stones at the policemen, who retaliated with rubber bullets and bullets, said the Chinese state-owned news agency, noting the strikers then carried the dead miner’s body to the local parliamentary building and staged a rally.

“We regret that a disturbance occurred on Oct. 10 in Timika at the location where the company arranges bus transportation for our workers,” the company wrote in an email to The Northern Miner. “We understand that a group of striking employees marched from the union office in Timika to the bus terminal intending to disrupt bus loading for PT-FI employees returning to work. The group entered the bus terminal and police responded to remove the unauthorized entrants and the group reacted aggressively.”

The company says the injured were taken to local clinics and hospital a facility, adding it is working with local police to curb these “acts of intimidation” so workers can return to work if they choose to. It stresses individuals behind these “illegal acts of aggression” should be held accountable.

The dead miner, Petrus Ayamiseba, 36, was laid to rest only after provincial and local councilors told his relatives that police will thoroughly investigate the incident, as noted by The Jakarta Post.  It mentioned that the Mimika regency council invited several groups to meet to talk about the shooting and the strike.

After reaching a deadlock earlier over wage increases, the workers’ union has reportedly cut its demand of at least US$12.50 per hour to US$7.50 per hour.

The workers at one of the world’s largest copper and gold mine are reported to receive US$1.50 to US$3 an hour.

As recently cited by Reuters the company has so far offered a 25% increase.

On Sept. 21, the company, which is Indonesia’s biggest tax payer, put out a release saying it is offering workers a “highly competitive” compensation package.

The last time Grasberg miners went on strike was in July 2011 for eight days, causing a production loss of about 35 million lbs. copper and 60,000 oz. gold.

Freeport predicts the current strike will reduce production by 3 million lbs. copper and 5,000 oz. gold a day.

If the work stoppage lasts until Nov.15, it’ll mark the longest strike in the country’s mining history.

The company, which has continued to boost production levels with its reduced workforce, says it will provide a status report and production outlook when it releases its third-quarter results on Oct. 19.


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