Chinese-run Indonesia Nickel Smelter Employs Chinese Workers to Break Strike

Last week, a labor strike escalated into a violent conflict at PT Gunbuster Nickel Industry (GNI), a smelter industrial compound in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, causing at least two reported deaths. Among these deaths were one Chinese worker and one Indonesian worker. More than a dozen workers were injured.

From January 11 to January 14, Indonesia’s National Workers Union (SPN) organized hundreds of Indonesian workers for a four-day strike, demanding the company to implement safety procedures abiding by the Indonesian law; provide personal protective equipment to workers; stop unexplained wage cuts; and terminate unfair contracting practices. The union also demands GNI to re-employ SPN members who were unjustly fired due to previous strikes and acts of protest. The recent strike followed a series of protests last year and unsuccessful meetings among the union, employer, and the regional government to discuss issues at the factory. It was also catalyzed by the deaths of two Indonesian workers, Made Detri Hari Jonathan and Nirwana Selle, in a factory fire due to a furnace explosion at GNI on December 22, 2022. 

1) Menuntut Perusahaan agar wajib menerapkan prosedur K3 sesuai dengan peraturan perundangan yang berlaku;
2) Menuntut perusahaan wajib menyediakan APD lengkap kepada pekerja sesuai standarisasi jenis pekerjaanya atau resiko kerja di lokasi kerja tersebut;
3) Menuntut perusahaan segera membuat peraturan perusahaan.
4) Stop pemotongan upah yang bersifat tidak jelas
5) Stop PKWT untuk pekerjaan yang bersifat tetap;
6) Menuntut perusahaan agar mempekerjakan kembali karyawan (Anggota SPN) yang di-end kontrak sebagai akibad dari mogok kerja sebelumnya;
7) Menuntut perusahaan agar memasang sirkulasi udara di setiap Gudang atau smelter agar tidak berdebu;
8) Menuntut perusahaan agar memeperjelas hak hak yang telah diberikan kepada keluarga almarhum Made, dan almarhum Nirwana Selle sesuai dengan peraturan perundang undangan yang berlaku.
1) Demand that the Company is obliged to implement Occupational Safety and Health procedures in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations;
2) Demand that companies are obliged to provide complete PPE to workers in accordance with standardized types of work or work risks at the work location;
3) Demand that the company immediately make company regulations;
4) Stop deducting wages that are not clear;
5) Stop PKWT for permanent jobs;
6) Demand that the company re-employ employees (SPN members) whose contracts have ended as a result of the previous strike;
7) Demand that companies install air circulation in every Warehouse or smelter to prevent dust;
8) Demand that the company clarify the rights granted to the family of the late Made and the late Nirwana Selle in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations.
1) 要求公司有义务根据适用的法律法规执行职业健康和安全程序;
2) 要求公司有义务根据工作地点的标准化工种或工作风险向工人提供完整的个人防护装备;
5) 停止 PKWT协议 以获得永久雇佣;
6) 要求公司重新雇用因上次罢工而合同终止的员工(SPN成员);
7) 要求企业在每个仓库或冶炼厂安装空气流通以防止扬尘;
8) 要求公司根据适用的法律法规,明确赋予已故Made和已故Nirwana Selle家属的权利。

In reaction to the strike, however, GNI management used Chinese workers to break the strike, blockade the factory gates, and protect the company’s property. In a circulating video filmed by an Indonesian worker on January 14, Chinese workers were equipped with metal pipes and physically clashed with the striking Indonesian workers. Commotion was stirred up among Indonesian workers and, later in the day, escalated into a riot in which Indonesian workers set fire to the workers’ dormitories and company vehicles.

Instead of de-escalating the situation, GNI held Chinese workers against Indonesian workers, creating an image of Chinese ‘us’ vs. Indonesian ‘them’. Many Chinese workers grew worried that they would become victims of anti-Chinese sentiments in Indonesia. Some workers were kept on the frontline and distributed helmets and metal pipes by the management to defend themselves and the company. 

Chinese workers armed up in the morning after the night of arson. Video from online

Meanwhile, an understanding of the union’s labor rights demands is lacking among the Chinese workers. From China Labor Watch’s conversation with 5 Chinese workers at GNI, we learn that the eight demands, especially those most relevant to Chinese workers in regards to occupational safety, have not been known or understood by Chinese workers. Instead, many perceived it as an issue of wage increase only among the Indonesian workers, a topic hard for Chinese workers to sympathize with given the two groups’ differentiated social space. 

This is, in part, an outcome of the company’s efforts in curtailing the spread of information negative to its image on the Mandarin-speaking social media in general. In the company’s chat groups, Chinese workers were demanded to use their legal names, and each chat group is monitored by a supervisor. Chinese workers who speak out negatively about the company are subject to reprimands and fines. The vast majority of Chinese workers only speak Mandarin, limiting their source of information to the Mandarin-speaking media and the company’s statements. As a result, many were not aware that Indonesian workers were demanding fairer treatment through the strike. 

A subcontractor company at GNI was fined 100,000 CNY because a worker of the company circulated images of the death of another worker in several WeChat groups. Image offered by a worker

These controlling measures, coupled with the language and cultural barriers in Indonesia, prompted Chinese workers to act along their employers’ interests. But it also needs to be noted that among the thousands of Chinese workers employed by GNI, most of them did not engage in the actions. 

There has long been discontent brewing among locals toward the labor malpractices and environmental destruction brought by Chinese investments. This anger is sometimes directed to the Chinese living and working in Indonesia. But in fact, many Chinese workers also suffer from labor malpractices by Jiangsu Delong, including but not limited to wage arrears and wage withholding, unreasonable wage deductions, deceptive recruitment, excessive overtime, physical abuses, sexual harassment, passport detention, and restriction of movement. Accidents and unreported deaths are frequent in GNI and other facilities owned by Jiangsu Delong. Investigation by the National Commission on Human Rights in Indonesia found seven people have died because of work-related incidents at GNI just last year. Some Chinese workers are still owed 3 months of their salaries by GNI.

As of January 18, 71 workers –Chinese and Indonesian– have been arrested. Going beyond blaming the union or rioters, China Labor Watch calls for a deeper review on what triggered the escalation and incited nationalist frenzy. Instead of seeing GNI as a victim of a riot, we urge the company to take up responsibilities, to take the labor rights demands seriously, and to treat the issue of workers safety and health as of utmost priority. Workers, Chinese and Indonesian, need to overcome cultural and social divides and deepen mutual understanding instead of hostility and hatred.

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