19 workers have died following a fatal explosion at the PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel plant situated within the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) on Sulawesi Island, prompting a protest involving hundreds of workers. Of the 19 workers that have lost their lives, 11 are Indonesian and 8 are Chinese.
The explosion, which occurred on Sunday morning local time due to a fire ignited as part of furnace repairs, also left dozens more injured. As a result, hundreds of Indonesian workers gathered outside the plant and protested the working conditions, demanding change, and justice. Union representatives submitted a letter to the police outlining 23 crucial demands aimed at improving safety standards and overall working conditions.
Sulawesi is a vital hub for Indonesia’s production of nickel, which is an important metal used in electric vehicle batteries. In the past decade, it has witnessed billions of dollars of global investment in the sector. Accompanying the investments have been several other fatal accidents as well as concerns over labor conditions and wages. As such, the recent accident has intensified existing tensions, prompting a collective outcry from the workers against what they perceive as inadequate safety measures and neglect of their well-being.
IMIP released a press statement following the incident, and Dedy Kurniawan, spokesperson for IMIP, informed the French news agency AFP that the company had taken steps to address some of the protesters’ demands in the preceding two days. However, specific details regarding the met demands were not disclosed.
Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, in a press briefing on Wednesday, 27 Dec, expressed China’s deep sorrow over the incident, revealing that eight Chinese nationals were among the deceased. She emphasized China’s commitment to prioritizing safety in overseas projects funded by Chinese capital.
IMIP is owned by China’s Tsingshan – the world’s largest nickel producer – and local Indonesian partner Bintang Delapan, which produces stainless steel and carbon steel. This tragedy follows a previous incident in January, where two workers, including a Chinese national, lost their lives at a nickel smelting plant within the same industrial park. The incident resulted from a riot during a protest over safety conditions and wages, further highlighting the persisting challenges in the Indonesian nickel industry.
As the global demand for nickel continues to rise, we urge stakeholders, including investors, governments, and industry players, to prioritize the well-being and safety of workers, fostering an environment where production and human lives are not pitted against each other. This report released by CLW in Dec 2023 documents more of the challenges faced by workers at IMIP – the events unfolding in IMIP underscore the pressing need for comprehensive measures to ensure the sustainable and responsible growth of the nickel industry in Indonesia, as well as the protection of both local and migrant workers.