APSN Banner

Workers' safety first

Jakarta Post Editorial - December 28, 2023

Jakarta – Our heartfelt condolences go to the families of the 19 workers who were killed on Sunday, in an explosion at the nickel smelter of PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS) in Morowali, Central Sulawesi.

As we await the results of the investigation into the cause of the deadly blast at a furnace, we are left with some nagging questions about Indonesia's occupational safety laws and regulations pertaining to the mining industry.

While the government pushes to develop the downstream mining sector by encouraging mining companies to set up smelters and offering attractive incentives, Sunday's fatal accident reminds us of the importance of regulations that protect workers' safety and health, especially in inherently dangerous jobs.

The accident has led to a tragic loss of lives that will no doubt have a larger impact on the workers' families and communities, as well as the industry's workforce as a whole.

It has also led to economic losses for ITSS, which has been forced to close the smelter amid the ongoing investigation. Beyond the miner, it could potentially lead to reputational damage for the government in terms of its ability to supervise large mining companies, whether upstream or downstream.

To mitigate these and other risks, the investigation must be independent and credible.

Earlier reports said the fire broke out when a technical team was repairing the furnace. The Morowali Police said 11 of the workers killed were Indonesians and eight were foreign nationals, while scores of others were injured, some critically.

While we commend ITSS for immediately announcing compensation for the workers' families as well as for the injured workers, we hope the firm will be just as expedient and transparent about the ongoing investigation and its results.

ITSS is a subsidiary of China's Tsingshan Holding Group, one of the world's largest stainless steel and nickel producers. With its foreign operations including the United States, India and Zimbabwe, it is natural to expect the company to uphold the global standards for labor safety and health as well as the environment at all its operations, including here in Indonesia.

ITSS is one of several Chinese subsidiaries that have set up operations, all nickel-related, at the expansive Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP). The IMIP is among a handful of new industrial parks that show how serious the government is about developing Indonesia's downstream mining sector.

The development of nickel smelters supports the ambition of Indonesia, the world's largest nickel producer with reserves of around 21 million tonnes, to become a regional production hub for electronic vehicles and batteries.

The government's downstream development policy has yielded massive investments in the nickel mining sector, mostly from China, to complement the local manufacturing sector. Western and Japanese companies, including those that have operated in Indonesia for decades, have been reluctant and slow to seize this opportunity and be a part of Indonesia's journey up the industrial ladder, from a mere supplier of commodities to an exporter of manufacturing products.

While we welcome these downstream businesses' foreign exchange contributions to the country's coffers as well as creating jobs and incomes for our people, we should never lose sight of our regulatory and oversight responsibilities so they comply with the globally accepted standards on labor, workers' safety and health and the environment.

Mining and minerals are export industries, so we should aim for their adherence to the highest standards, including imposing even stricter environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards.

Sunday's tragic accident in Morowali is a wake-up call to take another look at some of the articles on these standards in the 2023 Job Creation Law.

The legislation was rushed through the House of Representatives with little public consultation, and the original version passed in 2020 was rejected by the Constitutional Court. The amended version following the court ruling was passed early this year by a presidential executive order, but did not quite improve on the many shortcomings identified by labor and environmental groups.

There is nothing wrong with drafting a law to attract the investment that the country needs, but we should not trade the lives of workers for the sake of corporate profits or the economy.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/12/28/workers-safety-first.htm