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Hundreds of Indonesian nickel workers stage peaceful rally to demand better work safety

The Independent (UK) - December 27, 2023

Maroosha Muzaffar – Hundreds of workers in Indonesia's nickel industry held a peaceful rally demanding improved work safety standards, just three days after a fire resulted in 18 deaths.

The workers, representing the world's largest nickel producer, gathered at the Morowali industrial park on Wednesday. However, the rally did not impact operations, and company officials are reportedly in talks with worker representatives.

The workers, numbering around 300, demanded compliance with occupational health and safety laws, threatening to strike if their demands weren't met within three days.

Protesters submitted a list of 23 requests to the management, as outlined in a letter forwarded to the police by unions representing the workforce.

The requests included improvements in nickel smelter maintenance, enhancements to health clinics to handle emergencies, and a mandate for Chinese workers to acquire proficiency in the Indonesian language.

The Morwali industrial park, spanning 3,000 hectares, focuses on nickel processing and employs about 70,000 workers.

The recent fire occurred at a nickel smelter furnace owned by Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, leading to the suspension of its operations for a police investigation.

Indonesia has banned unprocessed nickel ore exports to promote domestic smelting, but the industry has faced safety challenges in recent years.

Dedy Kurniawan, a spokesperson for Morowali industrial park, said that the company had "done what they [the protesters] demanded two days ago," without mentioning which demands had been met.

"We hope this demonstration will not continue after they hear our explanation," he said.

The fire that occurred on Sunday at a nickel smelter furnace, owned by Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel – a unit of China's Tsingshan Holding Group – resulted in the loss of 10 Indonesian and eight Chinese workers.

The accident happened during repair work on a furnace when a flammable liquid ignited and caused nearby oxygen tanks to explode, according to the initial investigation.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo also called for improved safety and enhanced monitoring of environmental standards in the wake of the accident.

Data collected by the Mining Advocacy Network, an Indonesian watchdog, showed that at least 22 workers from China and Indonesia have died in nickel smelting plants in Central Sulawesi province since 2019.

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/southeast-asia/indonesia-nickel-plant-workers-rally-sulawesi-b2469814.htm