Kentex owners may escape prosecution

ENDLESS GRIEF  The mother of a missing footwear factory worker cries during a special mass in Manila for 72 people who were killed when a fire gutted the factory on May 13. AFP PHOTO

The mother of a missing footwear factory worker cries during a special mass in Manila for 72 people who were killed when a fire gutted the factory on May 13. AFP PHOTO

THE owners of the slipper factory that was gutted last week may escape prosecution because of a weak and antiquated law on occupational safety and health.

It is for this reason that Malacañang on Sunday announced the formation of an inter-agency investigating body that will look further into the culpability of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. and its sub-contractor for the disaster.

“An inter-agency task force made up of the DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] and Bureau of Fire Protection, Department of Justice [DOJ] and National Bureau of Investigation, DOLE [Department of Labor and Employment] and the
Department of Health has been directed to conduct a thorough investigation of the recent fire to determine security and safety lapses and to recommend the filing of appropriate charges based on its findings,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in an interview aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.

Coloma noted a fundamental defect in the law on occupational safety–it does not slap criminal liability against those who may have violated it.

The Palace official said they concur with Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz,  who said non-compliance with laws and regulations on occupational safety and health should be criminalized.

“This has become imperative in the light of the disastrous fire in a factory in Valenzuela City [Metro Manila] that claimed the lives of at least 72 workers last Wednesday [May 13)]” Coloma added.

He cited the need to “put more teeth” to the regulations promulgated in 1978 that contained no criminal penalties.

Under the Labor Code’s Occupational Safety and Health Standard, it is the government’s duty to protect all workers against the dangers of injury, sickness or death through safe and healthful working conditions.

The standard also assures conservation of valuable manpower resources and prevention of loss or damage to lives and property.

Baldoz earlier urged lawmakers to enact a measure that will punish “heartless” employers.
Coloma said the Labor department has summoned officials of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. and its sub-contractor, CJC Manpower Services, to a special meeting with them today.

“Initial DOLE findings show that CJC is an unregistered sub-contractor and that recourse to such malpractice [sub-contracting] is done by unscrupulous employers to avoid complying with minimum wage laws and other government-mandated compensation and benefits,” he added.

“The DOLE and its attached agency, the Employees Compensation Commission, are looking into the needs of the families of the victims of the fire. According to Secretary Baldoz, they will assist the families of those who perished in the fire in facilitating their claims for benefits such as loss of income benefit, funeral and death benefits. Those who were injured can also claim medical reimbursements under existing labor laws,” Coloma said.

The inter-agency task force, he explained, aims to identify liabilities of the owners and determine how the government can help the families of the victims in their legal battle.

Also on Sunday, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) called for the immediate junking of Department Order 18-A (DO 18-A) of the Labor department that it claimed was “instrumental in legalizing contractualization.”

“The tragic death of  70 workers must not be taken for granted. Their deaths must be a wake-up call to Baldoz before it really turns into nightmare. Drastic and comprehensive reforms must be taken at once and the scrapping of the DO 18-A must be its centerpiece,” Gie Relova, leader of BMP in Metro Manila, said.


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