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Justice for the Kentex workers! Justice for all occupational victims! Safe workplaces for all!

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Testimony of Lea Bersabal, Coordinator, Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance (Philippines)
Read during the ANROEV Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam last September 4, 2015

Good morning everyone! I am Lea Bersabal. I worked for Kentex Manufacturing Inc. for nine (9) years. We make footwears, particularly Havana slippers distributed in the local market. I work for eight (8) hours a day and receive a daily wage of P202.00 ($4/day) {$1=P46}). This amount is way below the minimum wage of P481 per day implemented in the National Capital Region. If we have overtime work, we receive P29.00 per extra hour of work ($.63). I work as a reviser of Havana Printed and I am also assigned in the sealing, packing and hydraulic sections.

Kentex workers suffer from tiring and tough work everyday. Besides long and demanding work hours, we also experience poor working conditions. We suffer from itchiness and other skin conditions because of the dust accumulating in our working areas. The hand gloves provided by the management are thin and not durable. We are forced to buy thick hand gloves using our own money so we can endure work and continue to provide for our families’ basic needs.

We have daily quotas to meet. Supervisors strictly monitor our work and even throw hurtful words if we fail to meet our quota. We have to take their day-to-day threats of : “Just tell me if you can’t handle the work, there are lots of agency workers waiting to be hired.”

The agency deducts a P100 cash bond which is equivalent to $2 from our weekly wage and only gives the total amount after five (5) months. They do not remit the monthly deductions intended for our social security benefits through government agencies such as the Social Security System (SSS), Philhealth (health care) and Pagibig (housing). Until now, these government agencies have not taken action on the agency’s non-remittance of our regular payments and contributions.

The tragic fire happened last May 13 at the Kentex factory in Valenzuela City located in the northern part of Metro Manila. It was around 11:30 in the morning and most of the workers have just finished their lunch break. The fire started on the ground floor near the stairway where some repair and welding are being done. Welding sparks reacted with the sacks of chemicals scattered in the area without proper labels. The fire quickly dispersed around the building. Workers tried to put out the fire by pouring water to the sacks of chemical but it only continued to grow bigger.

I saw how my co-workers were desperately calling for help. Their helpless hands endlessly waved from the windows protected with steel mattings even a mouse can’t pass through. It was so painful to see how my fellow workers and friends waited for help that didn’t come. Until now, I am still haunted by their screams for help. What if I were also trapped in the cage-like second floor of the building? Who will take care of my children? We demand justice for the more than 72 workers who died and the families they have left behind.

Labor groups and institutions were at the site the day after the tragic fire. The results of their fact finding mission showed the glaring violations of health and safety standards committed by the Kentex management. Worse, the Labor Department, the primary agency responsible in ensuring worker’s safety, granted a certificate of compliance with regard to general and occupational health and safety standards to Kentex Inc. in September 2014, eight months before the tragic fire occurred. We are outraged of the government’s inaction to the legal and administrative cases we filed against the Kentex owners, Labor Department and Bureau of Fire Protection officials who are directly responsible for the tragedy which claimed the lives of our fellow workers.

We are grieving the loss of our co-workers but we are standing up for justice. We will continue to push for reforms on labor policies especially the protection of worker’s health and safety. We don’t want another workplace fire tragedy to happen again.

Our fight for justice has gained initial positive results with the approval of a substitute legislative bill in the committee level of Congress. This bill provides heavier penalties for all employers who have violated health and safety standards. We know this step will greatly help in preventing workplace accidents and deaths. We will exert all our efforts and unite with the workers until this becomes a law.

We are grateful for this opportunity to share our situation with the members of ANROEV. We are thankful for networks like ANROEV who continue to support our fight for justice and safe workplaces for all the workers. We pledge to continue our work in the Philippines and extend our support to all workers who seek for justice and safety at work.

Justice for the Kentex workers! Justice for all occupational victims! Safe workplaces for all!