The International Labor Organization (ILO) in the recent World Congress on Safety and Health Work called on member-states to push for zero occupational accidents and deaths, citing 2.3 million people worldwide die yearly as a result of work-related accidents.
ILO Director General Guy Ryder said the direct cost of occupational illness and accidents has now reached $2.8 trillion worldwide.
“These figures are unacceptable and, yet, these daily tragedies often fail to show up on the global radar. Clearly, there is still much to be done. Serious occupational accidents are, firstly, human tragedies but economies and society also pay a high price,” Ryder said.
“The right to a safe and healthy workplace is a basic human right—a right to be respected at every level of development and in different economic conditions. Respecting this human right is an obligation—as well as a condition for sustainable economic development. Prevention is possible, it is necessary and it pays,” he said.
For the past decade, the Philippines has seen a significant rise in construction-related injuries, and even deaths. High-rise condominiums are being constructed in Metro Manila at a staggering rate and these construction sites have become increasingly dangerous for workers.
The Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) published a list of top accident-prone sectors where most work-related accidents happened during the Aquino administration. It has listed mining and construction as among the deadliest industries for Filipino workers because of the lack of a law that genuinely promotes the welfare of the workers who are exposed to various health and safety risks while at work.
Aside from mining and construction, also in the list are service and transport sectors.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines in previous studies have also found a lot of violations of occupational health and safety standards in exclusive economic zones, as companies try to boost savings and profits to the detriment of their workers.
The government should exert a lot more effort to protect Filipino workers’ and the public’s health and safety in general.
The Department of Labor and Employment has an Occupational Safety and Health Center and regional OSH centers. But obviously, just having an office for monitoring compliance with labor regulations will not suffice. You need people to man those offices, and stricter enforcement and monitoring too.
Implementation is vastly difficult since employers can still practice the if-you-can-get-away-with-it-why-not attitude. This they can do because of certain government policies.
Congress should review Republic Act 7916 or the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995, which gives foreign firms virtually total control over the economic zones aside from according them tax holidays and other perks.
Workplaces should be inspected by the Labor department without exemption.
For instance, under the Labor Standards Enforcement Framework, the policy of the Philippine government is that any corporation which employs more than 200 workers should voluntarily self-regulate its own safety standards.
DOLE inspectors only investigate companies that employ less than 200 workers. So big companies, including those in construction, mining and other accident-prone sectors, are practically unregulated. And this is why they get away with a lot of violations.
According to the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, of the 1.8 million workers who are employed in the construction industry, only 100,000 are considered permanent employees. The rest are contractual.
As contractual laborers they are paid less than the minimum wage and receive no social security or medical benefits. They often live on the job site, under flimsy, makeshift shelters.
What kind of safety and health standards could be expected to protect them, if at all, when their companies can’t even pay them the right wages and benefits, and if their employers only ‘’self-regulate’’ without the strict supervision of the Labor department?
A union would help greatly in making employers follow labor laws, including those on safety and health in the workplace, but most workers are not organized, and accidents usually occur in workplaces where unions are banned or discouraged. Contractual laborers don’t have unions to protect them.
The government should not subcontract its accountability to workers to their employers. Doing so has led to unsafe working conditions and a host of other labor violations.
The government should be able to monitor all offices and factories to make employers do their duty of protecting the health, safety and welfare of their workers. Risk assessments should be performed along with workers, and workers should know that it is their right to be consulted on health and safety issues.
It would help a lot if the Labor department could have an honest to goodness whistleblower hotline which an employee could call anonymously to report unsafe workplaces without fear of repercussion from their bosses.
DOLE should act on complaints, at the same time preserving the confidentiality of the workers who raised concerns and reported violations.
There have been many incidents when workers who complained were fired. This should never happen. It is right for workers to report malpractices, and it is the government’s responsibility to investigate and do something about the complaints.