WE in the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines condemn government’s failure to enforce occupational safety and health standards that resulted in the death of 72 workers in a devastating fire at the factory of footwear maker Kentex Manufacturing Corporation.
We urge government to file multiple homicide cases against the owners of the factory and administrative, criminal and civil liability charges against government officials negligent of their duties to protect the health and safety of those workers.
TUCP supports the families and relatives of the victims of this lamentable, yet preventable tragedy in their quest for justice.
The death of the factory workers is just one of the dangers faced by Filipino workers in the Philippines, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
ILO Director General Guy Ryder said the safety of workers cannot be overemphasized enough in light of these tragedies.
“Once again, we find ourselves mourning workers whose lives have been cut short as a result of workplace accidents. Often such accidents are preventable,” Ryder said.
“Everyone has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, regardless of the industry they are in or the type of work that they do,” he added.
Ryder said workplaces must be kept safe by improving work conditions, especially in places like factories, where most of the low-skilled workers are working.
He said there must be regular inspections to ensure that factories comply with structural, fire and electrical safety.
The ILO said 2.3 million people worldwide die yearly as a result of work-related accidents.
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.
Ryder is right. The Valenzuela tragedy is just one of many lamentable examples.
For the past decade, the Philippines has also seen a significant rise in construction-related injuries and deaths. High-rise condominiums are being constructed in Metro Manila at a staggering rate and these construction sites have become increasingly dangerous for workers too.
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 on the list are the 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 still practice the if-you-can-get-away-with-it-why-not attitude.
There is also a need to ensure workers’ rights, especially freedom of association and collective bargaining. 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.
Labor safety standards must be upheld, especially under the Asean Economic Community (AEC) or the single market that will integrate the 10 Asean member-states, including the Philippines, by the end of the year.
This would mean freer flow of goods, services, investment and skilled labor will impact the structure of the economy, as well as jobs, skills, wages and labor mobility in the region.
Under the AEC, the ILO and Asian Development Bank said there will be an over 60-percent increase in demand for low-skilled workers.
Medium-skilled employment could also grow by around 25 percent. This covers mainly clerks, craft and related trade workers, plant and machine operators and assemblers, and service and sales workers.
This is why we need stronger policies for zero occupational accidents and deaths.
In the aftermath of the Valenzuela tragedy, the government promised to ensure strict compliance of all factories across the country with occupational safety and health standards, in line with international labor standards including ILO conventions.
But how many times have we heard these promises? How many more workers need to die or suffer from preventable accidents before they are truly enforced?