China’s nickel smelter in Indonesia resumes production after deadly riots

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Production resumed at a nickel smelter in China in Indonesia on Tuesday after a deadly weekend riot exposed ongoing tensions over the presence of Chinese workers in the Southeast Asian country.

Police said violence broke out on Saturday at the PT Gunbuster Nickel Industry (GNI) plant in Morowali, Central Sulawesi province, and was sparked by an allegedly false rumor that Chinese workers had attacked their Indonesian counterparts protesting over wages and wages. occupational safety.

An Indonesian worker and a Chinese worker were killed.

“Information from management shows that 2,963 workers have returned to work today,” including 350 Chinese workers, Central Sulawesi Provincial Police spokesman Didik Supranoto told RFA affiliate BenarNews.

Indonesia’s labor ministry said it sent a team to investigate the violence, which saw workers set fire to part of the factory.

“The aim of the investigation is to find out what caused the riot and to solve the existing problems so that similar incidents do not happen again,” said the head of the provincial office, Arnold Firdaus Bandu.

Officials said 71 people were in police custody and 17 of them were considered suspects in connection with the violence.

Meanwhile, more than 700 police and soldiers have been deployed to maintain security around the factory, and no new tensions between Chinese and Indonesian workers have been reported, police spokesman Didik said.

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“They get along well,” he said.

Some Indonesians have expressed concern over what they see as an influx of workers from China into the country, accusing them of stealing menial jobs from the local population.

The government insists that only Chinese nationals with specific skills are allowed to work in Indonesia, especially on Beijing-backed projects.

According to the Ministry of Manpower, there were more than 42,000 Chinese workers in Indonesia by 2022, accounting for about 44 percent of all expatriates in Indonesia.

Didik spoke about the events leading up to Saturday’s clash.

At a meeting between the union and company management on Friday, workers demanded an upgrade to safety procedures, an end to wage cuts, reinstatement of workers whose contracts had expired and better compensation for the families of two workers who died in a factory fire in December, he said.

“Various demands have been met, but some need follow-up, especially regarding the termination of employees whose contracts have expired,” Didik said.

Local workers went on strike on Saturday, inviting their Chinese colleagues to join them, Didik said.

“In the afternoon, security guards managed to keep the tension under control. But late at night through Sunday morning, they became anarchic, resulting in deaths, injuries and damage to corporate facilities,” he said.

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General Listyo Sigit Prabowo, the national police chief, said a rumor about Chinese workers beating up local colleagues is false.

“What happened was there was a call to strike… and there were attempts at coercion [other workers to join] and they were rejected, and rumors went viral that there were attacks by foreign workers on local workers,” Listyo told reporters.

“The National Police assisted by the TNI [the military]is willing to provide security, because this naturally affects Indonesians who also work there, and the activity of this smelter has certainly added value to the country,” he said.

Chinese companies dominate nickel smelting

The ministry’s provincial office said PT Gunbuster denied access to its officials who went there to investigate after two Indonesian workers were killed in a fire in December.

“PT BNI was too strict and uncooperative. If they had been transparent, we could have given the workers understanding,” he said.

According to the personnel bureau, BNI employs 12,247 people, including 1,312 Chinese nationals.

A member of the provincial legislative council, Muharram Nurdin, called for a thorough investigation.

“I ask the police to be neutral in handling the case. There should be no discrimination. If foreign workers break a law, they must be punished,” he said.

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Muharram said the company should be punished if it does not cooperate.

“We all hope that there will be no more unrest between Indonesian employees and foreign employees at PT GNI. And any problems that exist are being solved properly,” he said.

Indonesia imposed a ban shipments of nickel ore in 2020, prompting the European Union to request a review by the World Trade Organization.

China-related companies dominate Indonesia’s nickel smelting industry, according to information from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia said government policies requiring companies to refine raw materials at home to make exports more valuable have attracted Chinese companies.

After SingaporeChina is the second largest foreign investor in Indonesia.

Chinese investment in Indonesia reached US$3.6 billion in the first half of 2022, compared to $1.7 billion in the same period of 2021, according to Indonesia’s Investment Ministry last year.

China also funds projects in Indonesia as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure-building program. These include the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed line project, which is expected to be completed in June 2023.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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