Strikers blockade Freeport's mine in Indonesia

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2011 1:00 AM
Strikers blockade Freeport's mine in Indonesia

Thousands of striking workers blockaded roads leading to Freeport-McMoRan Cooper & Gold Inc.'s mine in easternmost Indonesia on Tuesday, preventing food, medicine and other supplies from reaching holed-up staffers and their families.

Production at the mine, which holds some of the largest gold and copper reserves in the world, was halted for a second day over security concerns, said Ramdani Sirait, a spokesman for PT Freeport Indonesia.

Striking workers at the Grasberg mine in Papua province are demanding salaries equivalent to what the Phoenix-based company pays in other countries _ something analysts say they're unlikely to get because of the high cost of doing business in the remote, mountainous region.

Tensions soared last week when two miners were killed during clashes with police and three others were shot dead by unidentified gunmen, prompting Freeport to halt operations at both its underground and open-pit mines.

It's not clear when production will resume, said Nurhadi Sabirin, a vice president for PT Freeport Indonesia.

The blockade around the mine and at the port has prevented Freeport from sending supplies to replacement workers and their families, said Sirait, the company spokesman.

"With no food or medical supplies, we're very worried about the condition of our employees and their families," he said. "We really hope the government will help open this blockade."

About 90 percent of the mine's 12,000 employees went on strike on Sept. 15 demanding that their current salaries of between $2.10 to $3.50 an hour be pushed to as high as $17 to $43.

But analysts say the high cost of additional infrastructure needed to support operations in Papua's remote and rugged Puncak Jaya mountains _ like roads and housing _ make it unlikely they will be able to negotiate a globally competitive wage.

It's the second strike this year at the gold and copper mine in Papua.

The company said the first, eight-day work stoppage in July affected its revenue by $30 million a day.

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Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.