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Freeport Indonesia mine operations hit by protests over COVID-19 rules

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Mining operations at Indonesia’s Grasberg gold and copper mine have been disrupted as protests by workers over coronavirus restrictions extended into a third day at the mine operated by a unit of Freeport-McMoran Inc.

Workers have been blocking access to the world’s second-largest copper mine in the easternmost region of Papua since Monday, demanding to be allowed to return to their families who live in a different town for the first time since March and seeking a bonus for working amid a pandemic.

“Operations at the mine are carried out on a limited basis, prioritising mining maintenance jobs. We’re still assessing the condition,” Riza Pratama, a spokesman at PT Freeport Indonesia, said on Wednesday, adding that the company hoped to reach a quick solution to the protest.

A protester who declined to be named due to fear of repercussions said nearly all miners had joined the protest and said there had been no production at Grasberg since Tuesday.

Freeport employs 13,000 people in Tembagapura, the closest town to the Grasberg mine. Out of these, 389 had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 361 of them now recovered, Pratama said in a text message.

On Monday, Pratama said Freeport Indonesia was working on a new working schedule that adhered to “new normal” protocols.

Yonpis Tabuni, a workers representative, told Reuters protesters were in a meeting with the management of Freeport Indonesia and government officials to discuss a solution.

Workers and the company had yet to agree on how many people are allowed to leave per day, said the protester who declined to be named.

“We will follow health protocols like wearing masks and social distancing,” he said.

Operations at Grasberg are currently shifting from open pit to all-underground mining. The mine is expected to produce 110,000 tonnes of ore per day in 2020.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies

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