INDONESIA: Freeport’s Indonesia copper mine must improve safety or face more protests -union

Sunday 12 October 2014

Date: 8 October 2014

Type: News

Source: Reuters

Keywords: Unions, safety standards,

* Five people have died at the mine this year -union official

* Safety at Grasberg is a priority, says Arizona-based miner

* Freeport set to make safety presentation to govt

By Michael Taylor and Dennys Kapa

JAKARTA, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Workers at Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s giant Indonesian copper mine are seeking face-to-face talks with local management following a fatal accident, and may plan a further mine blockade or strike action, a union official said.

Hundreds of angry protestors blocked access for two days last week to the open-pit area of the Grasberg copper complex, where production has been halted following the death of four workers on Sept. 27. The open pit accounts for more than half of the mine’s output.

Fresh protests, blockades or strike action could be triggered if workers’ safety concerns and other demands were ignored, said Albar Sabang, a senior official at a Freeport union, potentially hindering copper exports.

"Production is important but safety is number one," Sabang told Reuters, adding that protesting workers had demanded a meeting on Oct. 11-12 with Freeport Indonesia CEO Rozik Soetjipto. "If the demands are not met they will plan to do another protest," he said.

The Indonesian government is investigating the accident, which involved a collision between a light vehicle carrying nine people and a haul truck, and has laid out a number of required work changes for open-pit mining to resume.

Freeport has not responded to requests for comment, but the Arizona-based firm said in statements last week that it would work closely with the government accident investigation team and that safety at Grasberg is a priority.

A tunnel collapse last year killed 28 workers at the mine in one of the country’s worst mining disasters. Union officials say five people have now died at the mine this year following an earlier fatality.

The Grasberg complex sits inside the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and faces regular earthquakes, as well as torrential rainfall that can trigger landslides down steep slopes. The mine’s position on top of a mountain means workers also have to cope with altitude sickness and poor visibility due to thick mist.

IMPROVEMENTS DEMANDED

A video on YouTube that purports to show the latest incident, shows a heavy duty hauling truck drive over a four-wheel drive vehicle at a bend in the road at the mine site.

As a worker standing between the two vehicles runs to avoid the haulage truck, the four-wheel drive vehicle is crushed.

The video could not be independently verified by Reuters.

Workers at last week’s protest complained that the company’s management has put production ahead of worker safety.

"I’ve only had one training session, which was at the beginning before I started working here," a worker who drives trucks similar to the one involved in the accident told Reuters. The worker declined to be named.

At a news conference late on Tuesday, mines ministry officials said changes needed at the mine before open-pit activities could resume included retraining haulage truck drivers, more safety meetings, greater use of mobile communications, guidelines to increase traffic safety and maintaining mining facilities when production has stopped.

Freeport officials are expected to outline planned safety changes at a meeting with the mine ministry on Thursday.

"All our demands have a deadline so that the company will take them seriously," said Bambang Susigit, a senior mines ministry official.

Freeport, one of the biggest tax payers in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, only recently resolved a tax spat with the government that halted exports for months and frayed relations.

Rio Tinto has a joint venture with Freeport for a 40 per cent share of Grasberg’s production above specific levels until 2021, and 40 per cent of all production after 2021. (Additional reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Reporting by Michael Taylor and Dennys Kapa; Editing by Richard Pullin)

See online : Reuters

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