It had taken ten dead construction workers and a public outcry before the labor department dispatched an inspection team to Lucio Tan’s construction sites. What they discovered were multiple violations of labor standards.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – How much is a worker’s life worth? To add to the grief of the families of ten young construction workers who fell and died last January from the 28th floor in a condominium construction project of tycoon Lucio Tan’s Eton, it amounted to just P150,000 ($3,466) each. Another construction worker who fell and survived sustained grave physical injuries that bar him from continuing to work. Their families are also having a hard time getting their benefits from the Social Security System (SSS).
Relatives of the construction workers who died in the Eton construction accident trooped yesterday to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for the preliminary hearing of the case they filed against Eton Properties and their subcontractors.
Last month some survivors of the Eton tragedy filed cases against Eton Properties Philippines Inc., and all its subcontractors namely, Jose Aliling Construction Management Inc., C.E. Construction, Arlo Aluminum Company, Inc. and Eduardo Piñon “for unfair labor practice specifically the non-payment of minimum wages, unsafe working conditions, non-compliance to occupational health and safety regulations resulting to death, non-registration of social security, non-payment of SSS, employment of minor, and violation of labor standards.”
The first hearing reportedly turned into an occasion for the employers’ lawyer, and for the labor arbiter Thomas Que Jr., to ask the survivors “How much do you really want,” as both claimed the money given to the families of victims by their employers were “already big.”
The representatives of the construction company claimed to some reporters that they have given families of the victims P250,000 ($5,777), but the victims told the Justice for Eton 11 Network that they only received P150,000 ($3,466). They were also made to sign papers which, although they were not given a copy, the PRO-Labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr. surmised as affidavits of desistance based on the accounts of the survivors. It is a legal document that supposedly signifies that a person would no longer file claims against certain parties. The families of victims were reportedly made to sign these documents in the dead of the night during their kins’ wake.
In the immediate aftermath of the construction tragedy in Lucio Tan’s Eton project in Makati last January, the labor department dispatched an inspection team to look into the various revelations coming out that most construction companies do not pay minimum wages, are violating occupational health and safety regulations, not remitting SSS contributions and not observing other labor standards. Particularly in the case of the Eton deaths, it became known that minors are being employed in the construction of Eton. One of the victims was a minor.
The labor department could have already done an inspection long ago, but it had come out before with an advisory allowing big companies to “self-regulate” or conduct self-inspection. Last week, after concluding their labor inspection of Eton construction project, the labor department has come out with a decision ordering the general contractor and some 13 sub-contractors of the Eton construction project in Makati to pay “double indemnity penalties amounting to P5,239,857.17 and total unearned wages of P1,719,223.92 for the benefit of 339 construction workers.”
A “monetary double indemnity awards” for the 11 victims of the Eton tragedy were also ordered.
The DOLE-NCR has also inspected other ETON constructions in Metro Manila, namely: Emerald Loft in Pasig City, Eton Parkview in Makati, One Archers Place in Manila, Eton Cyberpod Corinthian, E-Life Quezon City, Belton Place, 68 Roces, Centris Station, Centris Walk, Eton Cyberpod Centris, Eton Baypark Manila, 8 Adriatico, West Wing Residences, West Wing Villas, and The Manors.
As these developed, it appears that the families of the victims would have to wrangle first with the NLRC the amount and the manner in which they would receive the indemnity and the underpayment of minimum wages and 13th month pay which their kins had suffered prior to the labor department inspection of the Eton construction sites. The first hearing at the NLRC ended with another schedule set for April 26, where the money claims of the victim’s families would be on the agenda again.