‘When elephants collide, the mouse-deer dies between them.‘ These are the words I‘d use to describe the current situation of Freeport‘s workers. On 16 February 2017, PT Freeport Indonesia, through its spokesperson Riza Pratama, threatened the Indonesian government to layoff many of its workers. “If we cannot export, it is possible that reductions of our workforce may continue,” said Riza.
Freeport‘s CEO Richard C. Adkerson, confirmed Riza‘s statement by stating that the company was forced to lay off 12,000 of its 30,000 workers. Nevertheless, the Government has ignored this threat. “If it is part of pressure, just ignore it,” said Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution to the Jakarta Post. Other high ranking government officials like Luhut Panjaitan raised doubts by saying the threats were not elegant and ‘Kampungan‘
Today, the threat is ongoing. Approximately 8000 Freeport workers are still suffering whilst the Indonesian government continues to negotiate the divestment of Freeport‘s stake. The company claimed that the workers‘ strikes were illegal and thus the strikers were considered to have ‘voluntarily resigned.‘ Freeport continues to deny the legality of the strikes, by firing all the strikers, inducing them to resign, and ending their wages and benefits.
The company refused to negotiate with the workers‘ union in order to seek a negotiated solution for the dispute. Despite this however, the workers insist that the strikes are fully lawful. To date, the workers are continuing to remain on strike until the company agrees to negotiate the furlough dispute and Union rights are fulfilled by the company.
The impact of the layoffs is devastating, as many of the workers‘ livelihoods were ontingent on the terms of employment. Being laid off meant losing access to healthcare and housing, amongst other things. The company is not the sole culprit in this matter however, several banks have blocked access to worker‘s accounts without adequate customer liaison.
Additionally, as a result of terminated employment, workers have had their national health insurance memberships (BPJS Kesehatan) taken away, and this has led to the deaths of approximately 16 workers as they were unable to access intensive and sustainable medical services. The company‘s actions have also caused the expulsions of workers‘ children from schools as many are unable to pay education fees. Similarly, many workers have also experienced forced evictions from failing to pay rent.
However the list of violations does not end there. There are many other shocking cases of police brutality such as the crackdown on 19 August 2017 in Check Point VI. Following the riot, 19 workers were arrested. Many workers were tortured whilst being arrested and detained. For example, Steven Edward Yawan was reportedly subject to an isolated room with little access to air, lighting and was tortured with snakes and beatings.
Today 9 workers—including Steven—are still being detained, and are now facing trials at the Timika District Court. On 20 August 2017, the police and the military cleared the city of Timika from the Trade Union‘s public activities, posts and other gathering spots. Police repression has certainly perpetuated a climate of fear around the city of Timika.
The list of abuses goes on and on, and this calls into question the relationship between the police and PT Freeport Indonesia, particularly given that the government relies heavily on the company to provide logistical, infrastructure and financial support in West Papua. Furthermore, other complexities are present in a conflict area such as West Papua, as the company frequently hires the police and military for security and protection of mining operations. These security measures may lead to more abuses of human rights. These abuses have received little to no media attention and this only reduces the incentive for the company and state to be accountable and implement thorough internal investigations.
The violations stated above demonstrate Freeport‘s failure to comply with not only national laws but also its commitments as published in the company‘s human rights policy. The company has failed to remediate any proven adverse impacts on individuals, workers and communities that are caused or contributed to by company operations. In addition, the company has also failed to adequately ensure fair treatment and work conditions for its employees, including rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Government‘s failure to protect
Despite the numerous violations, the government has given little attention to the conditions of Freeport‘s workers. The labour inspector under the Ministry of Manpower has remained silent and has not followed up on a request of inquiry submitted by the Union. According to the Indonesian labour law, union busting and any interference to crush a lawful strike is categorised as criminal conduct.
It is clear that the labour inspector is responsible for investigating and prosecuting the management of Freeport for the allegations. However, instead of going after the management of PT. Freeport Indonesia, the Ministry of Manpower through Directorate of Industrial Relations decided to facilitate unlawful mediation that has resulted in significant losses for the workers.
Similarly, The Health and Social Insurance Administration Organization (BPJS Kesehatan) have refused to re-activate the memberships of workers involved in the strike. BPJS Kesehatan continues to ignore the proven findings on the deaths of 16 workers who were unable to access sustainable and intensive medical care as a result of their discontinued memberships. This decision breaches Indonesian law on National health System which mandates for the provision of health services for a minimum of up to 6 months even after termination of employment.
Concurrently, Jokowi‘s administration has made no comments in regards to the Freeport workers‘ situation at hand, and neither have other high-profile such as Darmin Nasution, Luhut Pandjaitan or Ignasius Jonan. They have chosen to ignore Freeport‘s appalling conduct toward its workers. Similarly, the Indonesian government has done nothing to help the workers and more recently the Indonesian government continues to give export permits to Freeport.
It has been sixteen (16) months since the strikes in mayday last year. Most strikers have taken casual work, including becoming ojek drivers, street vendors, infrastructure workers and many other jobs in order to survive. Their situation remains in limbo, and immediate action must be done to enforce labour law and ensure rights are being met. Somehow, workers rights cannot be subordinate for the conflicting interests between the Indonesian government and the company.