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NEWSMAKER-Sudiro: Freeport Unionist Leads His Flock To Promised Land

December 16, 2011

NEWSMAKER-Freeport Unionist Leads His Flock To Promised Land

By Olivia Rondonuwu

JAKARTA, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Indonesian union leader Sudiro hopes to
lead miners at the world’s biggest gold mine to a better life.

Sudiro, a Muslim, often invoked Biblical stories in speeches to fire
up 8,000 mostly Christian workers to join him in a strike over pay at
Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc’s Indonesia mine, a dispute
crippling the U.S. firm’s production.

"It took thousands of years for the Israelites to reach the promised
land," he said in one speech to workers near the remote mine in Papua,
eastern Indonesia.

"I think God works in the same way here, so we can be united and fight
for this," he said. Like many Indonesians, Sudiro uses only one name.

Sudiro signed a pay deal with Freeport on Wednesday on behalf of the
striking workers, a union spokesman said, ending a three-month strike
at what is also the world’s second-biggest copper mine.

Striking workers at the remote Grasberg mine agreed to a 37-percent
pay rise over two years, the union said. It aims to get members back
to work on Saturday, union field coordinator Hengki Binur said.

The pay rise, from current levels of $2-$3 per hour, was far below the
initial $30-$200 an hour pay levels that Sudiro pushed for, and so may
be seen as a success for both Sudiro and Freeport. It’s also a
Christmas present for workers, and a victory for an increasingly vocal
labour movement in Indonesia.

"By the time I step down, I want to see that workers have understood
their rights, to get a fairer position in the eyes of the management,
and to be treated as a partner instead of mere tools," Sudiro told
Reuters in an interview.

The slim 43-year old Taekwondo expert has taken on not only the U.S.
miner but also the local military, and regional and central government
in the dispute, in a country where in recent decades union leaders
were often hounded into jail, or just disappeared.

In almost 20 years at Freeport, Sudiro has worked his way up as a
maintenance and quality control specialist to the highest level
possible for a non-staffer. Companies in Indonesia often rely on
contractors because of strict local labour laws favouring staff
employees.

He became the head of the union with a promise to improve welfare
payments in a mountainous region with few roads where costs and
inflation are higher than elsewhere in Indonesia.

Minimum wages in Jakarta can be around 2 million rupiah ($220) a
month, but in Papua, a salary of 5 million a month can barely provide
a bed to sleep on, local sources say.

A 50-kg bag of cement for construction can cost 1.5 million rupiah in
Papua, versus just 50,000 rupiah in the capital .

Sudiro started his strike campaign after finding out workers at
Freeport Indonesia earned 10 times less than workers at the Phoenix,
Arizona-based firm’s mines in Chile and Peru. Freeport workers in Peru
also went on strike over pay recently.

"Other Freeport miners get paid $35 per hour, but the fact is Grasberg
is the prima donna of Freeport. We contribute 30 percent of the total
copper concentrate and 98 percent of the total gold concentrate,"
Sudiro told Reuters.

"If we take this into account, our contribution to Freeport is by far
bigger, but we got paid peanuts," he said.

Freeport’s CEO Richard Adkerson, in Jakarta to help broker a deal to
end the strike, had called Sudiro’s earlier pay demands "excessive and
unreasonable" and also wanted a "fair" deal.

Both were under intense pressure to do a deal in recent weeks. The
firm will likely miss its fourth quarter sales targets, while workers,
unpaid during the strike, worried they might not be able to afford to
celebrate Christmas this month.

MYSTERIOUS?

Sudiro has won the trust of workers, partly because of his oratory
skills. And although his slim frame and Javanese race marks him out as
different to the shorter and largely stockier Papuan men, his two
children were born in the region and speak in the local dialect.

"He lets other members of the union talk, but he would then close the
speeches with a short speech — like adding seasoning to food," said
Virgo Solossa, a union colleague.

The dispute at Freeport started in July, when workers went on strike
to force the firm to revoke a decision to sack Sudiro. Sudiro and
other union officials were sacked for taking days off as they planned
a strike, union sources say.

Sudiro has since told local media he has been threatened by
high-ranking security officials for organising the strike, and is
often followed by a government intelligence officer .

The Papua region has seen a simmering independence movement for
decades, as locals push for greater revenues from resources, leading
the area to be heavily guarded by the police and military, who have
often cracked down violently on protests or any expression of
independence from the sprawling archipelago.

Sudiro has avoided the heavy handed fate of union leaders from
Indonesia’s past, which local rumours suggest is because he has
high-ranking connections. He refuses to discuss such issues.

"He is a mysterious character and I think, at the least, he has an
intelligence network … because how can a person lead a strike for
months in Papua without anyone being able to stop him?" said
Octovianus Mote, a lobbyist for Papua in the United States.

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