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Grasberg: agreement signed but dispute continues

National leadership of IndustriALL affiliate CEMWU reached the agreement on 21 December 2017 with Freeport’s Indonesian subsidiary PT Freeport. Some 4,220 workers were fired at the PT Freeport Grasberg mine in retaliation for a strike called by CEMWU in May 2017. The agreement provides the workers with limited financial benefits including a payment based on length of service, and says they can apply for employment with contractors at Grasberg.

The agreement endorses Freeport’s central claim that the workers resigned by failing to report to work and therefore the company is not obligated to reinstate them.

The agreement contradicts the position that the 4,220 workers were fired for striking and must be reinstated, which was the basis of the IndustriALL global campaign.

The IndustriALL campaign for reinstatement of the fired strikers included multiple protest letters to Freeport and the Government of Indonesia, a high-level fact finding mission to Indonesia, a program of outreach to Freeport investors, requests for intervention by the ILO and UN Special Rapporteur, a meeting with the Indonesia National Commission on Human Rights, production of a short film profiling the plight of the fired strikers, lobbying Rio Tinto to use its stake in Grasberg to support the fired strikers, and online petitions.

CEMWU national leadership reports that they entered into the agreement after concluding they could not convince the company to reinstate the strikers or convince the government to intervene on their behalf. They report that the agreement provides financial benefits for the fired strikers many of whom were desperate after eight months of striking without an income, and provides some certainty so the workers can move on with their lives rather than waiting for reinstatement.

Sixteen strikers have reportedly died as of February 2018 after being unable to access medical services because PT Freeport took away their health insurance in retaliation for striking.

The agreement gives workers the right to either accept the agreement or refuse it and thereby retain the right to take legal action individually against the company. Only 300 fired strikers had elected to accept the agreement as of early March according to CEMWU national leadership. It is not yet clear how many individual workers will take legal action against the company.

The Indonesian human rights law firm Lokataru rejects the agreement with PT Freeport and continues to advocate for the fired strikers. In a February report on the strike, Lokataru criticizes Freeport for breaking the law during the strike and criticizes the Government of Indonesia for failing to protect the fired workers’ rights.

Lokataru calls for the fired workers’ fundamental rights to be respected, their health insurance to be reinstated, and for investigations into improper practices committed by banks, the health service and the police against the workers.

Stated IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches in a recent letter to the President of Indonesia:

“Freeport embodies the absolute worst of the global mining and metals industry. It provoked a strike by refusing to negotiate with CEMWU, then leading to some striking workers to die, as a result of taking away their health insurance. The Government of Indonesia must defend the fundamental rights of Indonesian workers against this type of abuse. We urge you to ensure that the fired strikers’ health insurance is immediately reinstated, that Freeport is held accountable for its illegal and immoral actions, and that you ensure the strikers no longer bear the brunt of these actions.”

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