The Philippine government and businesses often brag of the country’s sustained impressive economic growth in the last five years, yet working Filipinos— many of which are young workers in the formal and informal sectors— who helped made this wealth possible remain measly-waged, accorded with inadequate social protection benefits, and are working in unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.
The Filipino working people’s unfortunate status is demonstrated by the May 13, 2015 Kentex factory fire incident in Valenzuela City which killed 74 workers—majority of which are young workers. A post incident official government investigation showed grave violations of the general labour and occupational safety and health standards committed by Kentex employer despite a recent Certificate of Compliance (COC) inspection issued by government’s labor law compliance officers.The Associated Labor Unions (ALU) and its global union federation partner Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) deem that this economic affluence must be equitably shared with Filipino workers and their families through existing laws and established social protection mechanism. It is also an opportunity to improve working conditions to avoid risks to workplace accidents and deaths.
However, Philippine government statistics show both the government’s enforcement and the employers’ compliance efforts in making these levers work are inefficient. In the Labor Law Compliance System (LLCS) accomplishment for 2015, General Labour Standard (GLS) compliance in the country was only at 73.18 percent while the Occupational Safety and Health Standards compliance was at 66.94 percent covering a total of 50,161 establishments out of the more than 900,000 registered establishments nationwide.
This widespread employer irresponsibility and recurring government inconsistency is encouraging further labor and safety and health rights of workers at greater risk to the worst forms of exploitation and abuse. The weak enforcement and selective compliance with labour regulations exposes workers to underpayment of wages, non-payment of social protection benefits and imperils the lives of workers to unsafe and hazardous elements and conditions.
It is, therefore, timely for ALU and BWI to hold this year’s International Workers Memorial Day on April 28thcandle-lighting memorial ceremonies at the Kentex factory in Valenzuela City for ALU and BWI to send a strong message to government on the need for them to strongly enforce labor laws and make violators accountable.The gathering of unions at the site where workers died due to negligence of Kentex employers will also a call for the recalcitrant Filipino employers to faithfully comply with the established Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHS) and General Labour Standards (GLS).
Every candle that will be lighted, each poem that will be recited, each prayer that will be said by members of the union by the gate and walls of the gutted Kentex factory are actions symbolizing unions are vigilant and will always stood up for workers’ rights. The union-led commemoration at Kentex factory echoes BWI’s worldwide unions’ very urgent call for “Strong Laws, Strong Enforcement, and Strong Unions.”