From Timika to Jakarta: the Story of Freeport Workers in Building Their Power

Freeport Workers Journey for 10 days from Timika to Jakarta. Photo: Freeport Worker
Freeport Workers Journey for 10 days from Timika to Jakarta. Photo: Freeport Worker

It has been almost three months since Eno Sutrisno leave Timika to seek for justice in Jakarta. He traveled for 10 days through sea and land until he reached Senen Train Station, Jakarta, on 31st July 2018 along with 68 other Freeport workers. Mukti and Indra, who arrived in Jakarta earlier on January 2018, picked them up from the train station; not only from Timika, but also Freeport workers from all over Indonesia also coming to Jakarta

Eno and his 68 colleagues are some of the Freeport workers who dismissed unilaterally by PT. Freeport Indonesia (PT. FI). More than 8.300 workers and contractors of PT. FI (hereinafter referred as ‘Freeport workers’) affected by ‘Furlough’ program (lay off workers) and accusation of being absent from work.

As a result, not only did the Freeport workers lose the lives of 33 peoples, but they also could not access their BPJS health services and bank account. Even when expelled from their house, the kids could no longer continue their education after the incident.

Prior to their arrival in Jakarta, Freeport workers tried various efforts to defend their rights. From pleading to negotiate to the company, submitting a complaint to the Municipal Representative of the Manpower Ministry, sending letters to some of Ministries in Indonesia (including to Ministry of Manpower) and members of the House of Representatives, and even went on a strike. Nevertheless, no effort could bring a glimmer of justice to them.

The current situation experienced by Freeport workers is the accumulation from a series of events, particularly since 2011. On 15 September 2011 precisely, thousands of Freeport workers supported by indigenous community went on strike following the result of a concluded deadlock in July 2011 negotiation a meeting of collective labour agreement. Freeport mobilized police officers and army attacked and shot strike participants. Peter Ayamiseba and Leo Wandagatu were shot dead on the scene.

Throughout 2011-2017, Freeport workers continuously faced bad working condition. In 2013-2014 for instance, there was a work accident due to unsafe work environments such as heavy equipment and collapse of the mining tunnel where the training was held. Meanwhile, the agreement made by the end of 2011 which resulted a post-strike were not being implemented consistently by PT. Freeport Indonesia.

The peak of Freeport workers’ dissatisfaction began with two pivotal events: at the time when PT. Freeport issued ‘Furlough’ program and criminalization towards Sudiro, the Chairperson of PUK SPKEP SPSI (Labor Union). The two events occurred since the end of 2016 until 2017. Following the two events was an increasingly intense strike carried out by Freeport workers since April 9th 2017 to protest ‘Furlough’ and Sudiro criminalization. The series of events led to approximately 8.300 Freeport workers unilaterally dismissed by PT. Freeport Indonesia.

Freeport Workers Strategies to Resist  

Faced with uncertainty, Freeport workers in January 2018 got together in Timika and agreed to depart to Jakarta. ‘There is no other way. We must leave to Jakarta.’ says Tasrik Umar, one of the workers. All the workers collectively took initiative without any summons from Union. ‘This is concerning our life as workers.’ added Tasrik.

The initiative then generated a division of labors among the workers. Workers divide among themselves into small groups based on divisions of labors and regions. Each small groups coordinated by one person, responsible for sharing information on the case that was going on, taking care of each member and (one of the most important task) collecting dues/donation.

Grouping based on region became important. Some of the workers experiencing unilaterally dismissal went back to their hometown: in Java, Sumatera, Sulawesi and Kalimantan. Even though they were spread all over other regions, they still keep in touch.

Tomi for instance, Freeport workers from Medan join into one of groups from Medan. “We share information, sharing any update we have, particularly on what has been happening in Jakarta.” Tomi along with others 4 workers from Medan then depart to Jakarta soon after the arrival of his comrades from Timika in Jakarta.

Apart from sharing information, the groups also collected dues regularly. ‘We collect the dues with various amount based on our ability/economic situation. Some only contributed Rp. 1.000’ said Mukti. The contributions collected are the work of Freeport workers who are trying to survive by earning money as construction workers, porters on the market, motorcycle taxis drivers (ojek motor), or trading.

In the initial process of raising dues between January-July 2017, each month the workers were able to raise roughly Rp. 5-10 million. Money collected from various regions were then centralized in Timika managed by a person pointed by collective of Freeport workers. The money then is used to dispatch first group of Freeport workers from Timika to Jakarta.

In addition, Freeport workers also attempted to raise funds in public such as bazaars, musical art performances, concerts, traditional dance performances and solidarity funds. ‘We did all the efforts based on our initiative and solidarity. There is no sponsor who funded us.’ says Tasrik.

Donations from AHM automobile workers for Freeport Workers (21/9). Photo: AHM automobile workers
Donations from AHM automobile workers for Freeport Workers (21/9). Photo: AHM automobile workers

From Timika to Jakarta and all over Indonesia Archipelago

It takes at least 6 months for Freeport workers in Timika to prepare for their departure to Jakarta. Starting from the agreement in the beginning 2018, Eno along with others 57 Freeport workers departed from Pomako port in Timika on 21st July 2018. The first 58 workers were released at the port by several other colleagues, including Tasrik.

Freeport workers from Timika traveling to Jakarta. Photo: Freeport worker.
Freeport workers from Timika traveling to Jakarta. Photo: Freeport worker.

From Timika, the first group stop by some places based on KM ferry boat route. Tatamailau. After the first stop in Tual, South Timika, the journey continued to North Kaimana and West Papua. The ship then stopped in Fak Fak to pick up one other colleague. The groups grew to 63 when the ship stopped in Sorong.

From Sorong, after two days of waiting, the group from Timika moved to another ship (KM Kerinci) to continue their journey to Sulawesi. From Bau Bau, Southeast Sulawesi, the ship stopped by in Makassar. In Makassar, the group increased by 3 Freeport workers from Sulawesi; a total 0f 69 groups of Freeport workers arrived in Surabaya.  After two days in Surabaya, the group finally arrived in Jakarta by train on 31st July 2018.

Photo of KM Tatamailau Ship. Photo taken from Google
Photo of KM Tatamailau Ship. Photo taken from Google

The whole process of information on the departure of the first group from Timika were provided by Freeport workers. Available information shared and monitored through small groups and social media. Knowing the group from Timika on their journey to Jakarta, Freeport workers who had left Timika to their hometown took the initiative to depart to Jakarta.

Mukti for instance, after returned to Bandung he immediately departed to Jakarta on 30th July 2018. Mukti and several other Freeport workers were waiting for the arrival of the group from Timika at Senen Train Station on 31st July 2018. From July to this very day, Freeport workers from Medan, Palembang, Cirebon, Cilacap, Banyuwangi up to Sulawesi are continuously coming to Jakarta. ‘At the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute there were up to 200 Freeport workers from various regions.’ Tri said.

Circulation of the information on the development of the case seem to distribute well. In the National Union Confederation’s social media Jurnal Serikat Nasional, contents related to the case of the Freeport workers has reached a wide range audience (extensively above 10 thousand). Majority of the content related to the case, now popular and widely shared in Papua. This shows how the coordination and circulation of information were running well during their struggle.

Information Coverage on the Case of Freeport Workers on Facebook (5/10). Photo: JSN (2018)
Information Coverage on the Case of Freeport Workers on Facebook (5/10). Photo: JSN (2018)

Requisite to Build Workers’ Power

There are three important lessons given by Freeport workers during their struggle till present: solidarity, consistency and militancy. As laborers oppressed and experiencing violence in their daily life by state apparatus in Papua, Freeport workers successfully created and strengthened their identity as a working class.

The Freeport workers’ struggle has succeeded in eradicating horizontal differences in political identity between ethnic groups, races, ethnicities and religions that have existed among the workers. At the time of the strike on 19 August 2017 at the mining location for example, workers protected each other during the prayer despite having religious differences.  At the time, when PT. Freeport Indonesia laid off workers who were mostly coming out of Papua, Freeport workers from Papua swiftly planned a strike to defend their comrades.

A number of members from different trade union also joined to support the Freeport workers’ struggle. When mainstream media such as Kompas seemingly published the Freeport workers’ case without presenting the perspective of the workers , KPBI, FPBI, and KSN (to name some of it) actively raised the issue of Freeport workers.

Some of Unions and the other grassroots organizations also took part in solidarity for Freeport workers, such as giving donation to participating in a series of protests in Jakarta. Freeport workers also sent solidarity messages towards Taman Sari residents, Bandung who have experienced forced eviction.

Despite years of trying to change poor working conditions, Freeport workers remain consistently fighting for their rights. The workers retain their demands, being rehired and demanding legal action for violations of law committed by PT. Freeport Indonesia. Consistency also an evidenced by the solid work of workers who have been on strike since 2011 to date in Jakarta.

Freeport workers also show their remarkable militancy. The journey from Timika to Jakarta is certainly not an easy task as it takes patience and earnest preparation. Each action carried out in Jakarta, ranging from demonstrations, Car Free Day stages, audience to trials were carried out by all Freeport workers currently in Jakarta.

The struggle of Freeport workers has produced a number of triumphs. The first and foremost is the invaluable lessons given for the labor movement in Indonesia: the struggle has attracted various solidarity action from various groups.

Today, light has shed on the development of the case of Freeport workers. In the latter of last September, due to persistent voices echoed by workers, The Papua Province Manpower Supervisory Agency has issued a case handling report submitted by the workers which states the Furlough program cannot be justified and that the strike carried out by workers is in accordance with the Manpower Act.

Our goals, which are gradually being achieved, need to be empowered. The Labor movement’s resilience in cultivating solidarity, consistency and militancy is key to overcoming our obstacles. There is a force within the labor movement that can grow if we can weave our current resistances against capital into a common struggle.


Translator: Rini Kusnadi
Proof Editing: Patrick Jason


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