Tag Archives: occupational safety and health standards (OSHS)

Sentro backs criminalization of violations of workplace safety standards, but …

ensuresafety

THERE’S no doubt that the workers and unions will fully support any measure that will provide “teeth” to the toothless collection of norms, rules and regulations on workplace safety in the country, called the Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHS).

This was assured by the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) amid moves to revive or fast-track pending OSH bills in the House of Representatives and the call from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) chief urging both houses of Congress to hasten the passage of bills that will criminalize noncompliance of safety standards in workplaces.

“The need for an effective or working OSHS, the one which commands respect and fear especially among those who violate or will try to violate these workplace safety standards, has further been underscored by the Kentex tragedy last May 13,” Josua Mata, Sentro secretary general, said.

“However, simultaneous with this newfound enthusiasm to finally clamp down on unscrupulous employers and companies that violate OSHS with impunity, is also the pressing need to fight contractualization or precarious work arrangements, which do not only perpetuate job insecurity, low wages, measly benefits and breed other abuses – but also prohibit the workers from organizing or joining a union,” Mata emphasized.

He explained that “unless the workers are regularized, they will never have a real union that can ensure that all well-meaning laws, including an OSHS with teeth, are actually and effectively implemented or enforced.”

Few days after that horrific factory fire which killed at least 72 workers and over 20 are still missing, the House Committee on Labor and Employment announced that it will hold a hearing on May 20 to discuss and possibly to fast-track four pending OSH-related bills – HB 2226, HB 2471, HB 4594 and HB 4635.

Joining the fray, DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz issued a statement exhorting the senators and congressmen to expedite the enactment of at least three House and Senate bills that will formally outlaw and prosecute violations of the OSHS – the already cited HB 2226 and 2471, and SB 1368.

The current OSH standards still do not prescribe criminal penalties, thus the need to finally “criminalize” – or make illegal or become punishable as a crime – the offenses or violations here. This “body of standards, rules and regulations” was promulgated in 1978 and amended in 1989.

Sentro slams loopholes in labor standards inspection, certification

kentex2-300x233KENTEX FIRE

SECRETARY Rosalinda Baldoz made a hasty turnaround by branding the owners of Kentex Manufacturing Inc. “not only illegal but also immoral,” when a day before she said that the ill-fated factory has duly conformed to the general labor standards (GLS) and occupational safety and health standards (OSHS).

Baldoz announced last Thursday – a day after the horrifying fire that killed at least 72 Kentex workers – that the Valenzuela City-based slippers and sandals firm was granted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) a certificate of compliance (COC) with GLS and OSHS following two inspections in January and September last year.

Baldoz explained that the COC issued by the DOLE-National Capital Region office proved that Kentex passed a joint assessment conducted by a DOLE labor inspector (labor laws compliance officer or LLCO) and representatives from the management and workers. She added that the company has even a safety committee that oversees safety rules and regulations.

Sick joke

The national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) found Baldoz’ first statement to be distasteful or a sick joke in view of the Kentex fire’s high casualties with more than 20 still missing as well as the anguish of the victims’ families.

Even the company lawyer has virtually flaunted the DOLE’s COC as well as the fire safety certification from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to deflect the growing public anger and criticism against the Kentex owners.

Josua Mata, Sentro secretary general, said that despite the about-face of Baldoz and the DOLE’s Department Order No. 131, series of 2013 (DO 131-13), or the Rules on Labor Laws Compliance System (LLCS), there is still much to be desired in the country’s GLS and OSHS inspection mechanism and enforcement, as well as on the need for enough number of LLCOs.

‘Amazing inspections’

Sentro expressed its amazement how the purported multiple “inspections” in the Kentex factory by the DOLE, BFP and the local government of Valenzuela failed to notice the very glaring fire hazards posed by the building’s narrow windows boarded up with iron grills and wire mesh that “not even cats could escape through.”

These concentration camp-like windows have trapped the workers and prevented them from escaping on the second floor from the fire that started on the ground floor.

Sentro further enumerated the company’s gross violations of OSHS – the prison-like windows, inadequate fire exits, absence of the mandatory sprinklers and fire drills in factories, overcrowding (number of workers vis-à-vis the size of the building), welding job near highly flammable chemicals that actually triggered the fire, and prior to the incident, the constant exposure of workers to foul-smelling chemicals.

And only after the tragedy that many other glaring violations of other labor laws were exposed in Kentex – GLS, minimum wage, social security and health benefits, illegal subcontracting (so the use of underpaid and overworked contractual workers).

Thus, the complaints of salaries below the minimum wage, withholding pensions, health benefits and other social security benefits (SSS, Philhealth, Pag-Ibig), and 12-hour working days. Kentex is also accused of using a fly-by-night labor subcontractor, the CJC Manpower Services, which had 104 workers at Kentex during the fire, 34 of whom were reported missing and presumed to be among the charred bodies found.

The DOLE immediately washed its hands of any responsibility regarding the said subcontractor by stating that Kentex might have hired CJC Manpower – which in turn provided the company with cheap piece-rate labor – only after the factory was awarded a COC with labor standards (GLS), such as on paying minimum wage and benefits, overtime pay, appropriate working hours, remittance of social security, etc.

This was seconded by Baldoz when she charged Kentex of using “the legitimacy of (DOLE) assessment as (a) cloak to circumvent our laws.” She emphatically added that Kentex “has engaged and is engaging the services of an illegal subcontractor … a violation of the Labor Code.”

Inspecting the labor laws compliance ‘inspection’

Government data show that a total of 76,880 companies were inspected in 2014, compared to an average of 23,400 firms checked in the previous decade. A high of 76 percent or 51,569 companies were deemed “compliant” with the GLS and OSHS.

However, in 2013 there were only close to 600 labor inspectors (LLCOs), a measly number compared to 944,897 business establishments operating in the Philippines as of 2012 – 99.6 percent or 940,886 are MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) and 0.42 percent or 4,011 are large enterprises.

Likewise, the focus on the so-called “voluntary compliance” and “self-assessment” in the DOLE’s LLCS has been described by a labor leader as if the government is “asking the wolf to guard the sheep. No wonder the sheep get slaughtered.”

Thus, there are suggestions to deputize reputable trade union leaders as LLCOs to substantially increase the ranks of labor inspectors and LLC inspections. The LLCOs from the unions and from the DOLE must of course undergo an intensive seminar and training on labor laws and LLCS, and could resist bribery and other forms of corruption that are routinely dangled by unscrupulous employers.

Sentro further added that organized labor should sit down to review the current LLCS with the end view of fixing its loopholes (legal, procedural, etc.) or weaknesses, increasing the coverage, strengthening the mechanism, and ensuring its enforcement.

“This drive is of course part and parcel of the overall campaign of the labor movement to uphold and protect labor and trade union rights,” Sentro said.

Labor groups call for thorough investigation on Valenzuela fire that killed dozens of workers

#Justice4KentexWorkers! Justice for the #72workers killed at the Kentex fire!
72kentex

A coalition of labor groups offered sympathies to the victims of a deadly fire in Valenzuela City as it called on concerned government agencies to conduct a fair, speedy but thorough investigation on this tragedy that caused death and injury to at least 60 workers.

“The high death toll from this inferno strongly indicates a complete breach of safety protocols required for industries. Life certainly matters, but justice for this kind of catastrophe goes beyond legally required compensation. Factory owners and industry regulators must be held criminally-liable for this tragedy,” said Renato Magtubo of Partido Manggagawa (PM), one of Nagkaisa! convenors.

Josua Mata of Sentro ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa (Sentro) suggested that investigations do not just determine the cause of fire but must dig deeper into why dozens of workers were fatally trapped in the second floor of the factory building.

“The country’s occupational safety and health standards (OSHS) do not only require workplaces to be safe from hazardous and flammable substances but also must be equipped with necessary infrastructures that address emergencies like contamination, fire or explosions,” said Mata.

PHOTO by RADYO INQUIRER 990AM/ERWIN AGUILON

PHOTO by RADYO INQUIRER 990AM/ERWIN AGUILON

Initial reports said the fire came from the stock of chemicals in the first floor of the building where a welding work is also being done.

Alan Tanjusay of ALU-TUCP, on his part, said: “this tragedy could have been prevented had government agencies, which include the labor department and local government units, strictly enforced the OSHS requirements in workplaces.”

Leody De Guzman of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) advised the families of victims of Valenzuela fire to organize themselves and press charges against the owners of the footwear company.

The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) likewise called on concerned government agencies to extend the necessary financial and legal assistance to the victims.

The National Confederation of Labor (NCL) believed a substantial number of establishments all over the country are not compliant with occupational health safety standards because of corruption in government agencies.

Meanwhile Annie Geron of PSLINK, a confederation of public sector unions, bewailed the fact that quality public service, which include ensuring the safety of all workers at all times, remains missing or stuck in a state of downgraded priority in the government bureaucracy.

Unions press for better treatment, policies for hotel housekeepers

CONTINUING the initial salvo fired during the recent Bonifacio Day rally, activists from the trade unions and other mass organizations pressed anew for better treatment and policies for hotel housekeepers by picketing today the office of the national association of hotel housekeeping managers in Manila.

Led by members of NUWHRAIN-APL-SENTRO, the protesters urged the officials of the Executive Housekeepers Association of the Philippines (EHAP) to heed their demands aimed at addressing the plight of the “overworked, underpaid, abused and perpetually contractual” hotel housekeeping staff.

The picket coincided with the observance of the National Human Rights Awareness Week, which includes the International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, to reiterate the call that “workers’ rights are human rights.”

Members of EHAP – quite a misnomer since it is actually composed of managerial personnel – are usually the direct supervisors of “true” housekeepers; thus, the former are the first-line implementors of unjust and harmful practices against the housekeepers in the HRCT (hotel, restaurant, catering and tourism) industry.

NUWHRAIN noted that the campaign obviously targets also the top management and employers in the hospitality industry, specifically in the hotel sector, and not merely their subordinates among the EHAP executives.

This drive is part of the international campaign dubbed “Make Up My Workplace,” which was started last year by the global union IUF because of the worsening plight of hundreds of thousands of housekeepers – majority are women and many are migrants – in the booming hotel industry around the world.

Despite their equally important functions and the regular nature of their work, hotel housekeepers more often get lower wages and fewer benefits; but have heavier workloads, more prone to workplace hazards and sexual harassment or outright assaults, and typically remains contractual – effectively denying them the economic and political gains that may be enjoyed by regular workers, including the right to join a union and to receive additional rights and benefits from a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The IUF lamented that the job of hotel housekeepers are seen as “unskilled” which justify their lower wages, although they: work lifting heavy loads (regularly lifting king-sized and larger mattresses); work within strict time limits (15 or even 12 minutes to clean a room) and unreasonable quotas or number of rooms to be cleaned each shift (15 or as high as 30); use toxic chemicals and cleaning solvents; operate commercial sized vacuum cleaners; and perform 10 to 15 different cleaning tasks in one shift.

NUWHRAIN added that some hotels do not have trolleys forcing the housekeepers to carry or put in a bag on their backs heavy linens, towels, cleaning materials and tools, which frequently cause back pain, slip disc, joint and knee problems.

This blatant disregard for or violation of occupational safety and health standards (OSHS) may result not only to temporary injury but also to permanent disability of the workers, NUWHRAIN warned.

It added that the hotels’ “closed door” policy coupled with requiring chambermaids to wear miniskirts while cleaning the room may make them vulnerable to sexual harassment or actual rape from some guests.

Looking down on the value of work of the housekeepers as merely “auxiliary” or “non-essential” – plus the selfish motive to amass bigger profits – hotel employers, led by the global hotel chains, resort to contracting out housekeeping services from outsourcing agencies, NUWHRAIN added.

Thus, a NUWHRAIN study showed that housekeepers with regular or permanent employment comprised only of less than 20 percent of the total number of housekeepers in all 5-star international hotel chains in Metro Manila.

Included in this global campaign are the demands for the ILO (International Labor Organization), the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization), the national governments, and hotel companies to promptly address these issues and concerns of the housekeepers in the hospitality industry.

Foremost of these demands are the regularization of employment of housekeepers, strict observance of OSHS, wages and benefits befitting their permanent work status, clear measures to prevent sexual harassments in workplaces, among others.

NUWHRAIN is the National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries, which is affiliated to the IUF, the APL or Alliance of Progressive Labor and the national labor center SENTRO (Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa). The Geneva-based IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.