US gold and copper mining company Freeport Indonesia has to get permission from the government before it resumes mining activities following the collapse of its underground tunnel in Big Gossan, Timika, Papua recently, a minister said on Friday.
“Underground mining is not yet allowed, they are waiting for the result of the investigation. If they want to open the mine, they should ask permission from me,” Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik said.
But he added that it doesn't mean that the government would instantly approve a request from Freeport to resume mining activities. The government, he said, would need to analyze it first, calculating the risks against the government's potential revenue.
He said that he would also consider whether it was better to leave Freeport's employees with nothing to do or to allow them to continue mining activities but only for the open pit.
However, a union that represents 18,000 of the more than 24,000 workers at the mine said its members would not return to work until investigations into the accident were complete.
Union spokesman Virgo Solossa told AFP the decision was in line with Freeport policy to halt operations following accidents while probes were still ongoing.
"We also feel that the people under investigation, such as the head of underground operations and other managers, should be sent home so they don't interfere with investigations," he said.
Separate probes by the government and the company into the accident are being carried out but there has as yet been no indication what caused the tunnel to cave in on May 14 as 38 workers underwent a safety training session.
Solossa estimated the probes would likely take between one and two months.
Freeport said on Tuesday that open-pit mining and milling operations had resumed.
“As for operations at the open-pit mine and the mill, we have restarted on May 28, 2013, and are slowly ramping up our operations,” a statement from the company said.
Maintenance work was currently under way at the underground operations, which were also shut down after the tunnel cave-in, Freeport added.
In the days following the accident that left 28 dead, Freeport said it had enough stockpiles to meet existing orders.
The president director of Freeport Indonesia, Rozik B. Soetjipto, however, said that the decision to stop the underground mining operations was not made upon the government's order.
“It's our own decision ... it's not related to whether we're allowed or not,” Rozik said.
Additional reporting from AFP