Indonesia strike hits Freeport's Papua copper mine

Workers from Freeport-McMoran's Indonesian unit shout slogans during a strike in Kuala Kencana, Timika, in Indonesia's Papua province July 5, 2011
Image caption The workers walked out on Monday, and intend to stay out all week

One of the biggest gold and copper mines in the world has been severely hit by a bitter pay dispute, union leaders at the Indonesian facility say.

Thousands of workers began a week-long strike on Monday at the mine in Indonesia's Papua province, run by US firm Freeport McMoran.

Workers at the mine described it as like an "abandoned war zone", with almost no activity.

Earlier, Freeport said the strike was unlikely to badly disrupt the mine.

In a statement on Monday, Freeport said it would fulfil its contracted shipments by using its stockpiles. The firm has not yet commented on the latest claims.

The BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta says rights groups have often accused Freeport of stripping Papua of its rich natural resources without returning anything to the local community.

But the company maintains that it is one of the largest employers in Papua, and without the jobs the Grasberg mine provides, many Papuans would be far worse off.

Freeport is one of the biggest foreign investors in Indonesia, our correspondent adds.

Pay dispute

Virgo Solossa, one of the leaders of the industrial action, told the BBC that all of the mine's 13,000 Indonesian staff were on strike.

He said they were campaigning for a pay rise because Indonesians at Freeport are paid $1.50 (£0.94) an hour, but colleagues around the world get on average $15.

As a result, he says the Grasberg mine has been almost entirely abandoned - hardly any machinery is running, there are no cars on the roads, and almost all the power has been turned off.

A mechanic from the plant told Reuters news agency that he was in the last batch of about 2,000 workers to leave the open pit mine.

"When I left the situation was like an abandoned war zone," he said.

"It was quiet, no operations, no cars, were moving. All engines were shut down, operation tools and the power have all been turned off."

The AFP news agency reported that 300 workers had blocked the main access road to the mining area on Wednesday in a bid to escalate the strike.

The mine has been the focal point of violent protests in the past.

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