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12 Jan 2024

Indonesia: Furnace fire at Chinese-owned nickel smelter in Morowali kills 21 workers and injures over 40; workers protest for safer working conditions

Khadijahmery (Shutterstock)

A fire at a Chinese-owned nickel smelter in Sulawesi on 24 December 2023 killed 21 people. According to local media, the deadly incident occurred as workers were repairing a furnace at a plant owned by PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS), which is controlled by Tsingshan Holding Group, in Sulawesi's Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP). Police have suspended operations at the plant while an investigation into the incident is carried out.

Around 100 workers protested at the Chinese-owned nickel smelter complex on 27 December. They demanded the closure of all smelting operations at IMIP until a full investigation into the fire was completed.

A lawyer said the real number of accidents and fatalities in Morowali could be a lot higher because no official government data exists on worker deaths.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, known as Komnas HAM, has an ongoing investigation into the working conditions in Sulawesi’s nickel sector, according to Commissioner Anis Hidayah.

She said that during her visit to the smelters, she found that there was a clear lack of protections for workers.

“There was no effective monitoring for the workers by the labour inspectors,” she said. “This applied to both the local and the Chinese workers.”

In addition to the occupational hazards concerning work safety, activists argue that individuals in Morowali are also jeopardising their health due to severe pollution surrounding the mining facilities, which leads to respiratory issues.

In February it was reported two supervisors at the plant were designated suspects in the case by the police.