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Freeport Strike Settlement Could Set Precedent

  • Brian Padden

An activist shouts a slogan during a solidarity rally for workers of U.S. mining giant Freeport-McMoran outside the company's Indonesian headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 11, 2011 (file photo).

An activist shouts a slogan during a solidarity rally for workers of U.S. mining giant Freeport-McMoran outside the company's Indonesian headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 11, 2011 (file photo).

Workers at the Freeport mine in Indonesia settled a three-month strike Wednesday that disrupted output at the world's second-largest copper mine. The Papuan workers, who were the lowest paid workers of any Freeport operation in the world, will get a significant pay raise, but less then they initially demanded.

Union workers at the Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold company accepted a 37 percent pay raise, over two years, to end Indonesia's longest-running industrial dispute. The deal is to be officially approved on Saturday. Under the final settlement the wages will increase to around $7.50 an hour.

Professor Kurtubi, an economist at the University of Indonesia who specializes in mineral resource economics, says the agreement is good for the workers, good for the company and good for the government.

"This is a good, good solution, a win, win solution. Instead of maintaining the dispute for never ending, it is good to reach an agreement," said Kurtubi.

He says the workers will get more pay. Freeport will still make a healthy profit. And, with the labor issue resolved he says the government will now focus on renegotiating the percentage that Freeport pays in taxes and royalties, from one percent to three percent or more.

The settlement was expected be approved on Tuesday, but was delayed by last-minute negotiations to ensure workers would not be penalized for participating in the strike.

During the strike, the company said it was losing two million pounds of copper and 3,000 ounces of gold in daily production. Despite the mine's reduced output during the labor unrest, copper prices fell on worries about weak global demand. There is concern that resuming full mining operations could further bring down prices.

During the strike, operations were further disrupted by attacks on pipelines and blockades by workers that cut off some food and fuel supplies. Workers will have to repair the damages before resuming full production.

The strike has been the highest profile work stoppage in Indonesia in recent years. Professor Kurtubi says other mining companies will likely have to match Freeport wages to prevent their workers from going on strike.

"The level of the salaries that they pay to the workers should not [be] so much different than the pay that workers receive in Freeport," said Kurtubi.

Freeport Indonesia employs 23,000 people its mining operations. Many are Christian and reportedly pushed for a settlement before Christmas, so that they could afford to celebrate the holiday.

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