Hundreds of Indonesian nickel workers rally to press safety demands

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Hundreds of workers in Indonesia’s nickel industry staged a peaceful rally on Wednesday to demand better standards of work safety, three days after a fire killed 19 employees.

Labour groups threatened to strike if their demands were not met in full.

So far, operations have not been affected at the Morowali industrial park, its spokesperson, Dedy Kurniawan said.

About 300 workers joined Wednesday’s rally, according to Katsaing, the chairman of the workers’ union, Serikat Pekerja Indonesia Sejahtera (SPIS).

“Our main demand is for the companies to comply with the occupational health and safety law,” he said, adding that the management had “responded well” to a number of requests.

However, worker representatives would continue to press other demands and strike action was a possibility if their requests were not met, he added.

The industrial park, sprawling over 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) on the eastern island of Sulawesi, focuses on nickel processing, employing 70,000 workers in dozens of companies.

Sunday’s fire at a nickel smelter furnace owned by Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, a unit of China’s Tsingshan Holding Group, killed 11 Indonesian and eight Chinese workers, according to local police. Dozens other were injured.

That smelter’s operations have been suspended while police investigate the cause of the fire, Dedy said, but others in the park are running normally.

Indonesia’s manpower ministry will strengthen work safety laws, deputy minister Afriansyah Noor pledged.

Indonesia, the world’s biggest nickel producer, has banned exports of unprocessed nickel ore as it moves to boost domestic smelting and processing, but the sector has suffered several fatal incidents in recent years.

(Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina; Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto in Jakarta and Siyi Liu in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Christina Fincher)