Unions Worldwide Back Papua Strike


Unions both local and international have voiced support for their colleagues in Papua and defended wage demands by striking Freeport miners as justified, considering the mine’s remote location.

“We are one big family, and we fully support the struggle of our comrades, the workers at Freeport who are fighting for their welfare through fair and just wages,” said Subiyanto, general secretary of the e nergy, chemical and mining branch of the All-Indonesian Workers Trade Union (SPSI).

“A raise in Freeport workers’ wages to $7.50 per hour makes sense because of the high living costs in Papua,” he added, speaking in Jakarta on Wednesday.

The same sentiment was echoed by Dick Lin, the information and campaign officer at the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM).

“A wage rise as desired by Freeport’s employees is reasonable because the mine is located in a remote area, which tends to have high living costs,” Lin said in Jakarta.

Subiyanto said that wages in Indonesia were frequently automatically based on regional minimum rates.

“The problem we must highlight is that an employee’s remuneration tends to be set with reference to the minimum wage in that district or city,” he said.

Since Sept. 15, around 8,000 workers at the Grasberg mine in Papua have been striking after failing to reach agreement on wages and working conditions.

The mine is owned by US company Freeport and jo int venture partner Rio Tinto, a British-Australian mining company.

The national branch of the SPSI has stressed that the government must play a constructive role in helping settle the dispute.

“We ask the government of the Republic of Indonesia as the mandated authority to quickly take action to end the strike by encouraging both sides to undertake constructive negotiations in good faith,” Subiyanto said.

Another union activist, Airan Koibur, said one reason an agreement had not yet been reached was that Freeport had not been sufficiently transparent with the Papuans.

“In previous negotiations, we asked management to be open with us about the company’s profitability, because for the duration of the past 16 joint work agreements we have not felt any improvement,” Airan said.

“We see our demands as very responsible because it relates to the workers’ welfare.”

He went on to say that the workers had lowered their demands as many as five times.

Initially, they had requested a wage hike to $35 per hour. They subsequently reduced the demand to $30, then $17.50, $12.50 and ultimately to the current level of $7.50.

“We don’t understand why they find this unacceptable and say they’ll only increase wages by 30 percent from the current level of $2.10 per hour,” Airan said.

According to the agreement made on Monday, striking workers will meet their bosses again next week on Nov. 7, with the government playing a monitoring and facilitating role.

Any potential agreement reached by negotiators will need to be voted on by all striking workers.

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