* Freeport Indonesia unit lays off about 10 pct of expat
* Some contract workers to be released this week
* Warns of "unfavourable consequences" if no resolution
(Adds Freeport statement on production impact)
By Fergus Jensen and Wilda Asmarini
JAKARTA, Feb 20 U.S. mining giant
Freeport-McMoRan Inc warned on Monday it could take the
Indonesian government to arbitration and seek damages over a
contractual dispute that has halted operations at the world's
second-biggest copper mine.
In an escalation of the dispute, Freeport Chief Executive
Richard Adkerson also said the company's local unit had made its
first layoffs since negotiations started in January over a new
mining permit, and it may let go more workers this week.
The row, which centres around the sanctity of Freeport's
30-year mining contract, comes as Indonesia seeks to squeeze
more revenue out of its mining industry through a shake-up of
regulations over foreign ownership and ore processing.
"Right now we are at an impasse with the government,"
Adkerson told a news conference in Jakarta.
Freeport has been at loggerheads with Indonesia over the
terms of a special mining permit to replace its contract of
work, after halting its exports of copper concentrate due to the
new mining rules.
On Friday, the miner said it could not meet contractual
obligations for copper concentrate shipments from the mine
following a five-week export stoppage. Last week, all work was
stopped at Freeport's giant Grasberg mine in the eastern
Indonesian province of Papua.
Assuming the export ban continues and operations resume at a
local smelter in March, Freeport estimated its first-quarter
sales would be reduced by around 170 million pounds of copper
and 270,000 ounces of gold. That is equal to a reduction of some
17 percent in Freeport's total first-quarter copper sales and 59
percent in gold sales, the company said in a statement later on
The Gresik smelter was forced to halt operations on Jan. 19
because of a labour strike.
Freeport's existing contract of work is still in place based
on legal advice, according to Adkerson, and the company has
notified Indonesia's mining ministry of what it says are
government violations of the contract. That starts a 120-day
period for the two sides to settle the dispute themselves.
"At the end of that period if this dispute is not resolved we
reserve the right ... to commence arbitration," Adkerson said.
"I sincerely hope we can find a compromise."
The company also warned of "severe unfavourable consequences
for all stakeholders" if no resolution is reached.
The consequences could include "the suspension of capital
investments, a significant reduction in domestic purchases of
goods and services, and job losses for contractors and workers
as we are forced to adjust our business costs," it said.
Adkerson said about 10 percent of the expatriate workforce
was laid off on Friday, and this week "we will be releasing
Of Freeport Indonesia's 32,000 workers, only 12,000 are
employees and the rest are contractors, he said.
"BUSINESS OR LAWSUIT"
"Do they want business or a lawsuit?" Indonesia's mining
minister, Ignasius Jonan, asked in remarks to reporters on
Monday, responding to Freeport's warning that it could take the
dispute to arbitration.
The government would try to reach an agreement that "doesn't
break the law and that continues to honour the contract," but
failing that it could also seek arbitration, he said.
Jonan said on Saturday that going to court would be a better
option than "firing workers to pressure the government."
The layoffs were not a negotiating tactic, Adkerson said,
but "only to keep the business financially viable."
Adkerson said Freeport was committed to staying in
Indonesia. The mine is critical for Papua, with contributions
from Grasberg representing around one-third of the province's
economy, he said.
The chief executive of Freeport's Indonesian unit, Chappy
Hakim, appointed in November to navigate through the regulatory
uncertainties, resigned on Saturday. Adkerson said the company
was still assessing his replacement.
Under its current contract signed in 1991, Freeport has
invested $12 billion in Indonesia. But it cannot make $15
billion in additional capital investment for further development
without fiscal and legal guarantees from the government,
How Indonesia handles the dispute is being watched from
afar, he also noted.
"Millions of U.S. citizens indirectly invest in Freeport
with their savings accounts and their retirement plans,"
Adkerson said. "So what happens ... will be a matter of interest
for the U.S. government."
He said activist shareholder Carl Icahn, who holds around 7
percent of Freeport-McMoRan shares, was "very concerned about
what is happening."
Grasberg was expected to produce 800,000 tonnes of copper in
2017, about 3.5 percent of global supply, said Jefferies analyst
(Reporting by Fergus Jensen and Wilda Asmarini; Additional
reporting by Nicole Mordant; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo and Ed
Davies; Editing by Tom Hogue and Leslie Adler)