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IOHSAD Statement on the Kentex Fire Tragedy #JusticeforKentexWorkers

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Kentex Tragedy

Violations of occupational health and safety standards committed by the management of Kentex Manufacturing, Inc. caused the death of the workers in the deadly fire in Valenzuela City last Wednesday. A total of 72 workers died and several others are still missing . It should be noted that 69 workers met their death in the second floor of the building.

Based on accounts of the workers who survived the fire tragedy and as seen in the appearance of the burned structure, occupational safety standards were clearly violated. The management of Kentex Manufacturing did not comply with major provisons of Rule 1940 or the Fire Protection and Control Rule 1940 of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards of 1989.

A) Absence of proper fire exits in the building. This is a clear violation of the provisions of Rule 1943.03 which state:
(1) At least two exits shall be provided in every floor and basement of every workplace capable of clearing the work area in five (5) minutes.
(6) On every floor, except the ground floor, one of the exits shall lead to an inside stairway or a smokeproof tower, while the other exits shall lead to inside stairways, smoke-proof
towers or horizontal exits.

B) Kentex workers who survived the factory fire said that containers of newly-delivered flammable chemicals (Superseal) were not stored properly and were placed in the vicinity where the welding was being done. This is a clear violation of the provisions of Rule 1943.07 on storage:

(1) Significant quantities of commodities with fire hazards greater than ordinary combustible commodities shall be separated from the main bulk by fire walls.

C) Kentex workers claimed that there were no recent fire drills done in the workplace. This is a clear violation of Rule 1948.03:

(1) Fire-exit drills shall be conducted at least twice a year to maintain an orderly evacuation of buildings, unless the local fire department requires a higher frequency of fire drills.

According to the statement released by Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, “Kentex Manufacturing has been found to be compliant with general labor standards and occupational safety and health standards after a joint assessment by our Labor Laws Compliance Officers under the new Labor Laws Compliance System”. The tragic death of the 72 Kentex workers is more than enough proof that the labor laws compliance inspection being implemented by the DOLE is erroneous, unreliable and questionable.

The Labor Department has continuously bragged about the new Labor Laws Compliance Sytem being implemented since 2013 as “one of its kind” and that the Philippines is “one of the first to adopt the innovative approach for improving compliance with labor laws”. Workplace accidents and workers’ deaths show the exact opposite of DOLE’s boastful claims. Since its implementation, major workplace accidents including the fire tragedy in Kentex factory have occurred: (a) fire tragedy in Asiatech warehouse in Pasay in 2014 (8 female workers dead), (b) collapse of building in a warehouse construction in Bulacan in Januay 2015 (12 dead) ; (c) construction site accident in BGC in February 2015 (2 dead).

The new Labor Laws Compliance System being implemented by the DOLE is contained in Department Order 131-13 which aims to “inculcate and foster a culture of voluntary compliance, where there is less government intervention, and there is more workers’ and employers’ active participation in the plant-level.” This “tripartite” approach to labor laws compliance particularly on occupational safety standards has resulted in more injuries and deaths among workers and employers’ continuous violations of OHS standards. Workers’ lives, health and safety should not be anchored in the trust given by the Labor Department to company managements. Employers cannot be expected to voluntarily comply and report their violations of safety standards.

We call for the mandatory, strict and frequent safety inspection by the Labor Department of all establishments. The inspection should be done through unannounced visits of labor inspectors to prevent companies from concealing safety standards violations. Results of the inspection should be published immediately and must be presented and approved by the general assembly of workers.

We condemn the Labor Department’s silence and lack of concrete steps to make the employers accountable for the lives of the Kentex workers. Claims and promises of “social and labor justice” to be given to the workers are grave insults to the grieving families who seek justice for their loved ones.

We call on the Labor Department to immediately release the results of the inspections done on Kentex Manufacturing, investigate the labor laws compliance officer (LLCO) who performed the inspection and most especially file concrete criminal charges against the Kentex management.

We reiterate our call for the immediate passage of House Bill 4635 or Worker’s SHIELD (Safety and Health Inspection and Employer’s Liability Decree) that seeks the Labor Department’s mandatory inspection of all establishments and the criminalization of violations of OHS standards. The criminalization of OHS violations will definitely contribute to pushing companies to comply with health and safety laws. If the law is approved, employers who are proven guilty will not only pay penalties to the state but will be meted out appropriate criminal obligations based on the gravity of their violation.
We call on the government to resolutely act and put an end to the continuous neglect of our workers’ right to life. We appeal to all legislators to immediately pass House Bill 4635 and shield our workers from unsafe working conditions and deadly occupational hazards.

Prosecute the owners of Kentex Manufacturing!
Justice for Kentex workers!
Criminalize violations of OHS standards!
Pass House Bill 4635 or Worker’s SHIELD!
Safe working conditions for Filipino workers!