Upset by lockdown, workers bar access to Freeport Indonesia's Grasberg mine

JAKARTA, Aug 24 (Reuters) - More than a thousand mine workers in Indonesia blocked access to the Grasberg gold and copper mine operated by the local unit of Freeport-McMoRan Inc on Monday to protest a coronavirus lockdown policy that halted bus services to meet with families.

Grasberg, the world’s largest gold mine and second largest copper mine, is currently transitioning from its open pit operation to all-underground mining. The mine is expected to produce 110,000 tonnes of copper ore per day in 2020.

Riza Pratama, a spokesman for PT Freeport Indonesia, said the company was assessing conditions at the site, including the impact on mining operations.

Freeport employees began their protest in the early hours of Monday morning, and the protest was still continuing well into the afternoon, said Yonpis Tabuni, a worker representative.

“The main request from the employees is to resume the operation of staff buses so they can meet their families immediately,” Pratama said, adding that Freeport restricted travel to and from the mine due to coronavirus outbreak.

Tabuni said talks had taken place, while Pratama added that the company was considering the mine workers requests.

Freeport said in May is had reduced the number of workers in operation to a “skeletal team” after a rise in coronavirus infections in the area.

“We are preparing a new working schedule that refers to the new normal,” Pratama said. (Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)