29 Oct 2011

Freeport dispute galvanises Papuan and non-Papuan employees

10:13 am on 29 October 2011

A cultural anthropologist focussing on West Papua says the industrial dispute at US company Freeport McMoran's mine in Timika, Indonesia, is not strictly an issue of Papuan nationalism.

About a third of the 23-thousand workers at Freeport's Grasberg gold and copper mine in Timika have been on strike for more than a month, demanding wage increases and better working conditions.

The strike has forced Freeport to declare force majeure on shipments from the mine.

Eben Kirksey says that while many Papuans oppose the mine because its history is linked to their region's incorporation into Indonesia, the labour dispute has galvanised employees from other parts of the archipelago.

"For many years, all sorts of labour issues and human rights abuses around the Freeport mine have basically been swept under the carpet. Now for the very first time in history, we have a very vibrant movement for labour rights in Timika. Employees of the Freeport mine have said: we're no longer going to accept pennies for our very hard and dangerous work."

Eben Kirksey