Asia-Pacific

Indonesia: Papuan copper miners end Freeport strike

Workers from Freeport-McMoran Copper Gold Inc gather to pray during a week long strike in Kuala Kencana, Timika, in Indonesia's Papua province 11 July 2011
Unions want the workers to have pay closer to the wages of foreigners

Indonesian unions have reached a deal with bosses of US-owned firm Freeport to end a strike at one of the world's biggest copper mines.

Thousands of workers, who are paid on average $1.50 (£0.94) an hour, walked out a week ago demanding better wages.

Unions say the strike paralysed operations at Papua province's Grasberg facility, where gold is also mined.

The firm had played down the impact of the strike, saying it had stockpiled enough material to fulfil its orders.

The workers returned to the mine on Wednesday.

"We agreed because the management have agreed to all of the union's demands," union official Virgo Solossa told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Sinta Sirait, vice-president of the firm's Indonesian arm, told the Associated Press that Freeport and the union would open talks for a new contract on 20 July.

"We need everyone to get back to work as quickly as possible," she told reporters.

"Many sites are filling up with water. We have to get them dried out."

Freeport claims the Grasberg mine has the largest recoverable deposits of copper in the world, as well as the largest single gold reserve.

Analysts say the strike, combined with bad weather and industrial unrest in Chile, has pushed up the price of copper around the world.

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.

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

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