Position paper in support of House Bill 4635 or Worker’s Safety and Health Inspection and Employers’ Liability Decree (Worker’s SHIELD)
(Read during the HOR Committee on Labor and Employment meeting, January 28, 2015)
The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), a non-stock, non profit independent institution, engaged in assisting workers develop comprehensive and self-reliant occupational health and safety (OHS) programs, strongly supports House Bill 4635 or Worker’s SHIELD filed by Rep. Emmi De Jesus and Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Party. This bill reflects the most urgent steps that should be taken by the government and all concerned agencies for the prevention of workers’ injuries and deaths due to unsafe working conditions.
Occupational health and safety is a basic right of every worker. The government plays a very crucial role in ensuring that this right is enjoyed by the workers at all times. Laws and regulations on the protection of workers’ health and safety should be prioritized both in the national and workplace levels.
This position paper enumerates our reasons for supporting Workers’ SHIELD and why we also call for its immediate passage.
We have a right to know the real national occupational health and safety situation.
The Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) conducts a nationwide survey covering different topics on working conditions including occupational health and safety practices, injuries and diseases. Faced with the impossible task of gathering data from more than 900,000 establishments all over the country, BLES was only able to release the results of its 2011 survey last January 2014. The survey only covered 7,061 establishments with 20 or more workers.
Based on the BLES survey, there were 20,635 cases of occupational accidents with workdays lost in establishments employing 20 or more workers. Out of these cases, 161 were categorized as fatal. The results seem to reflect a large number of occupational accidents but these do not give us the real situation in the workplaces. We know that there are still numerous cases of occupational accidents, workers who got injured and even died that remain unreported and unknown to the public.
Why? The Department of Labor gives its full trust to the employers to submit timely and truthful reports with regard to their compliance with labor standards. This problematic method of survey naturally produces incomplete, questionable and unreliable data and conclusions. Employers will never volunteer to report cases of non-compliance with labor standards including violations of occupational health and safety laws done by the companies.
Worker’s SHIELD requires the Department of Labor to perform mandatory inspection of all establishments regardless of size and nature of operation. It should also publish annual reports with all the necessary information related to occupational health and safety. Complete, updated and reliable data is vital in the formulation of effective OHS programs and regulations.
We have a right to safe and healthy workplaces.
We support the bill’s provision to disallow self-inspection or any form of employer discretion-based compliance with safety and health laws. Department Order 57-04 do not only allow establishments with at least 200 workers to carry out self-assessment but it also provided the employers license to conceal their violations of occupational health and safety laws and placed the workers’ lives in more danger.
In relation to this provision, we call on the government to increase the capacity of the Department of Labor in terms of labor standards compliance inspection by hiring more certified labor laws compliance officers. The 600 labor inspectors in the department’s roster are incapable of covering even a significant number of all the establishments in the country. Furthermore, these officers should be given the necessary trainings to be able to perform intensive and meticulous inspections, regular monitoring and publishing of timely reports.
Last December 2014, Malacanang reported that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has given a $1-million grant to support a labor laws compliance system (LLCS) initiative. We encourage the public to closely monitor how the Department of Labor will use this technical assistance to fulfill its statement of providing more plantilla positions for labor laws compliance officers.
We have a right to a proactive and pro-worker national OHS program.
The criminalization of OHS violations, the main provision of Worker’s SHIELD, will definitely contribute in pushing the companies to comply with health and safety laws. Employers who are proven guilty will not only pay penalties to the state but will be given appropriate criminal obligation based on the gravity of the violation.
According to the lawyers of Pro-Labor Assistance Center (PLACE), not a single employer in the country was imprisoned due to non-compliance of health and safety standards. The Labor Code does not provide any clear provision that allows the prosecution of any employer who has violated safety regulations and caused the death of workers. Our very weak laws provide the perfect conditions for employers to commit labor standard violations which in turn pose greater danger to the workers.
President’s Aquino’s term will be remembered for the long list of workers who died because of unsafe working conditions. In January 2011, during his first year of presidency, 10 construction workers of Eton Properties died due to violations of safety standards. Four years after and his last year in the presidency, another tragic accident occurred in a construction site in Bulacan which claimed the lives of 11 people.
We call on our legislators to put an end to this continuous neglect of our workers’ right to life. We appeal to all the legislators to immediately pass House Bill 4635 and shield our workers from unsafe working conditions and deadly occupational hazards.