Even before PT Gunbuster Nickel Industry (PT GNI) was inaugurated by Jokowi until the operations of this  Chinese company had caused a number of environmental and humanitarian crimes in 14th. JATAM found that the company has a bad reputation when if comes to environmental and humanitarian crimes including its arrogance towards workers

The recent clashes between Chinese and Indonesian workers at the PT GNI smelter factory area were not only triggered by disagreement between Indonesian and foreign workers. The clash was the accumulation of a series of government policies and regulations trying to please the industry while ignoring a myriad of corporate crimes against workers, affected communities, and the environment.

PT GNI is a Chinese company that started building a smelter and coal fired power plant in 2018 in Bunta in Central Sulawesi. The inauguration took place in Konawe in Southeast Sulawesi at an industrial park from the same owner, Tony Zhou Yuna, in presence of President Jokowi accompanied by a number of Ministers and Regional leaders on 27 December 2021.

At the inauguration, Jokowi emphasized that the local Governor and Regent should maintain ‘a conducive investment climate, so that there would be absorption of labor, foreign exchange and taxes’.

This includes keeping a strict law and order status in the area. It is not surprising that after the clashes at GNI, Jokowi’s only immediately response was instructing the National Police Chief to take firm action against the rioters. In no time, the police arrested dozens of Indonesian workers who were accused of being the perpetrators, but all officials are turning a blind eye to the problems that caused the clashes.

This shows the true character of the government and the law enforcement model of the police: it is more important to protect investments, rather than the take care of the safety of the people, protect the environment, as well as the welfare of the workers themselves.

PT GNI’s Arrogance

Even before PT Gunbuster Nickel Industry (PT GNI) was inaugurated by Jokowi, the operations of this  Chinese company had caused a number of environmental and humanitarian crimes. JATAM found that the company has a bad reputation when if comes to environmental and humanitarian crimes including its arrogance towards workers.

[1] At the start of the operations in Bunta, East Petasia in 2018, the construction of a power plant (coal-fired power plant) and a smelter factory, the Lampi river was dammed and blocked without any consultation and land acquisition processes. The local residents’ productive lands were grabbed by the company, and who prohibited them to manage their own land.

The dam inundated residents’ houses and roads and who got blocked from their livelihood. Residents tried to fight back by stopping heavy equipment, but the company didn’t budge. A total of 300 hectares of land was grabbed leaving two hamlets flooded. This impacted the livelihood of thousands of residents.

[2] PT GNI ignored the rules no to use public roads for operations including heavy trucks.  PT GNI’s arrogance is affecting residents’ health. JATAM met some of them in September 2022, and they witnessed that after the company started its operations, they started complaining about Acute Respiratory Infections. In addition, the dust pollution from the operations is causing metal equipement, especially the roofs, to become rusty much faster.

[3] PT GNI’s operations are polluting the Tokonanaka Bay and surrounding sea water. The Bay serves as a harbour for large ships and coal barges who dump the left overs and dust into the sea. Apart from polluting the surrounding waters, it impacts the nearby fishing areas and decreasing the productivity of fishermen. Hundreds of fish cages owned by local fishermen were hit by ships and barges.

Currently, huge vessels with an average capacity of 55 thousand MT are crossing these waters 7-8 times a month, and their number will continue to increase as the operations are still expanding.

[4] Based on information from a number of workers, 10 workers have died since PT GNI started its operations. The first victim, with the initials HR, died on June 3, 2020 after he got buried by an excavator. His body was only discovered two days after the incident.

In May and June 2022, 2 foreign workers committed suicide.  Their initials are MG and WR.

There were other heartbreaking stories. YSR was swept away by an avalanche while operating the bulldozer without lights and sank into the sea at a depth of 26 meters. AF lost his life while working in the smelter. He was found lifeless after falling next to the control board of a hydraulic machine.

NS and MD are the two victims of a smelter furnace explosion on December 22, 2022. NS was a TikTok celebrity who went viral after he regularly posted his activities as a crane operator.

On January 14, 2023, the clash at PT GNI area resulted in 3 deaths; two Indonesian worker and a Chinese worker, and several injured.

[5] Based on the statements of a number of workers, the company also cut various benefits that are workers’ rights, as well as creating and maintaining wage gaps and worker facilities between Indonesian and non-Indonesian workers, even if they do the same type of work.

For example, Chinese workers are getting salaries and additional facilities that are higher than the majority of domestic workers. This gap is also reflected in the colour of the helmets: white and red helmets for Chinese workers, and yellow helmets for the Indonesian workers. The managers are wearing white helmets, the supervisors a red one, and the yellow helmet are for the ‘crew’.

Most Chinese workers are in commanding positions and are giving orders to Indonesian workers. Few Chinese workers are speaking Indonesian, they give their instructions in Mandarin and are often not understood. This often frustrated Chinese workers, with start yelling which in their tun offends Indonesian workers. This unhealthy work atmosphere has not been dealt with for years.

[6] Two residents, namely S and AH, sued PT GNI and its subsidiary, PT Stardust Estate Investmen, on July 2, 2021 to the Poso District Court for the seizure of 30,000 square meters of land in Bungintimbe village. However, this lawsuit was rejected by the Poso District Court and the residents had to pay a fine of Rp. 9,968,000. The lawsuit was rejected simply because the company name was spelled incorrectly. They wrote “Stardust Estate Investmen”, but it should have been “Stardust Estate Investment”.

[7] On August 23, 2021, PT GNI was again sued by SB, a resident of Bunta Village, for illegally occupying local people’s land to access a mining haul road. The residents’ lawsuit was won at the Poso District Court, which in its decision stated that PT GNI had committed an unlawful act and had to pay compensation to the land owners of Rp. 55,000,000.

The Network of Actors behind PT GNI

Tony Zhou Yuan, the director of PT GNI, also serves as director of two other nickel smelter companies in Southeast Sulawesi, namely PT Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry (VDNI) and PT Obsidian Stainless Steel (OSS).

According to JATAM’s records, PT VDNI reported and criminalized 12 workers who took action and clashed with company security officers.

Meanwhile, PT OSS reportedly polluted the air in six villages with coal dust and polluted air from the company’s coal power plants which are only hundreds of meters away from the residents’ settlements. The residents’ activities were disrupted, their eyes turned red when exposed to the pollution and often cough and have difficulty breathing.

Tony Zhou Yuan has a close relationship with Ali Mazi, the governor of Southeast Sulawesi. Ali Mazi is known to be on the supervisory board of Tony Zhou Yuan’s Foundation, the Andrew & Tony Foundation.

In JATAM’s view, the clashes between workers at PT GNI, the track record of the Chinese company, as well as the government’s response and legal approach from the security forces are a concrete example of how the interests of business people and the ruling political elite in Indonesia are strengthening.

JATAM believes that both the Indonesian and non-Indonesian workers are victims of this collusion. The government and security forces are actually framing a story in which they are scapegoating the Chinese staff, in order to avoid the unjust reality of a structural conflict.

This situation does not only occur in Morowali but in almost all operating areas of mining and smelter companies. This is a ticking time bomb which at the end will not only harm the workers, but also sacrifices the local residents and their environment.

For this reason, JATAM demands President Jokowi and the National Police Chief:

  1. We demand that President Jokowi stops the  operations of PT GNI and revoke their license, and immediately orders an audit/evaluation of all crimes which occurred against the workers, the affected residents and the environment.
  2. Demand that President Jokowi and National Police Chief Listyo Sigit immediately release all the workers who have been arrested, and stop the legal process against a number of workers who have been named as suspects.
  3. Demand that President Jokowi and National Police Chief Listyo Sigit immediately carry out legal proceedings against PT GNI’s crimes, especially regarding a number of alleged violations of laws against the environment, affected residents, and workforce.
  4. Demand that President Jokowi immediately orders PT GNI to guarantee the social and ecological restoration of all the damage that has occurred.**

Contact Person:

  • Moh Taufik – Director of JATAM Central Sulawesi – +62 822-9209-5416
  • Imam Shofwan – Head of Research at JATAM – +62 813-9235-2986
  • April Perlindungan – Head of Campaign JATAM – +62 813-1179-1696
  • Ki Bagus Hadi Kusuma – Head of Grassroot JATAM – +62 857-8198-5822