Farouk Arnaz, Ismira Lutfia & Nivell Rayda
About 5,000 workers at a dry dock company on Batam Island rioted on Thursday, attacking their company’s executives and foreign staff, mostly ethnic Indians, over racist remarks allegedly made by one of them.
“They were provoked by an Indian employee who said Indonesian workers were stupid,” National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Zulkarnaen said.
The unrest at PT Drydocks Word Graha in Tanjung Uncang, Batam, in Riau Islands, was under control and an investigation has been launched, Zulkarnaen said.
“It was a spontaneous action. However, the Batam Police are now investigating to determine if there was a mastermind,” he said.
Batam Police chief Chief Comr. Leonidas Braksan immediately went to the scene to try to disperse the crowd.
“I am on your side. I want you all to keep working well. Your families are waiting for you and your salaries at home,” he told the workers through a loudspeaker.
The call was greeted with cheers, and by 1 p.m. the crowd had been pushed out of the dock area. Police then erected barbed-wire fences to prevent the rioters from returning.
One worker said that the racist remark was at the core of the violent unrest.
“This is about national pride, so we were all angry,” said a man identified as Baim.
About 10,000 Indonesians were later observed outside the company, singing the National Anthem and other patriotic songs.
Zulkarnaen also said 41 Indian employees of the company were escorted out by 400 Batam Police officers, including members of the elite Mobile Brigade (Brimob). “There is no report of fatalities. The mob only destroyed 12 vehicles,” he said.
Antara, however, reported 22 vehicles burned. There were also reports that the mob set a company building ablaze.
The foreign workers were evacuated by boat. Four were injured in the clash, including an Indian citizen identified as Wilendra, who is being treated at an undisclosed hospital.
The Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration on Thursday dispatched teams to try to resolve the conflict and mediate a solution between the Indonesian workers and the foreign staff working for the company.
“We regret the incident, which was caused by a misunderstanding,” Manpower Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said at his office. “We have dispatched a fact-finding team to resolve the matter. The team will monitor developments in the case and prevent similar incidents from ever occurring again.”
The team is led by Haiyani Rumondang the director of industrial relations dispute resolution, the minister said.
Drydocks World Graha’s 49-hectare facilities, previously known as Labroy Marine’s shipyard in Batam, is managed by Singapore-based Drydocks World SE Asia.
The incident was just the latest social unrest to take place near a port area.
A violent riot prompted by an eviction plan in near Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta last week left three municipal public order officials killed and some 140 people wounded.
Aditional reporting by Antara