“The government’s refusal to criminalize and prosecute safety violations consigns our defenseless women workers to modern day slavery. The Philippines will always be the worst place in the world for workers as DoLE stands idly by and merely counts dead women in killer workplaces.” – Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Women’s group Gabriela and labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) joined forces in a picket in front of the national office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) in Intramuros, Manila, June 4, Wednesday to condemn what they call as “workplace massacre” under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
They carried a big black banner with the words “Katarungan para sa walong manggagawang namatay sa sunog!” (Justice for the eight workers who died in a fire!) and placed lit candles on the sidewalk to amplify their call for justice. The eight women workers died when a padlocked electronics warehouse burned down in Pasay City on May 30.
Juanito Go, the owner of the electronics shop Asia Metro Tech Inc., allegedly padlocked the doors of the warehouse, thus, when the fire broke out, eight women workers suffocated to death. Other women workers were able break out of the warehouse.
“We call for justice for the eight workers who died because of last Friday’s fire, and for all workers who died because of the Aquino government’s criminal neglect of occupational health and safety. The number of deaths in the workplace under Aquino already amounts to a massacre,” said Nenita Gonzaga, KMU vice-chair for women’s affairs.
Gonzaga cited major cases of violations of workers’ occupational health and safety such as those in Eton Towers (2010, 10 dead), Keppel (2011, five dead), Ali Mall (2012, four dead), Novo (2012, 17 dead), and SPC Malaya Power Corporation (2013, five dead).
“This is not the first time that a padlocked building killed workers and this won’t be the last. We have a government that does not learn lessons from these tragedies and does not uphold workers’ health and safety at the work place,” said Noel Colina, executive director of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD).
The IOHSAD said the DoLE failed miserably to enforce Rule 1943-03 of the Philippine Occupational Health and Safety Standards, which states that each floor in a workplace should have at least two exits to allow workers to clear the area in five minutes.
“The needless deaths and injuries of those women workers, some of whom are minors, are a tragic irony to the claims of DoLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, just a day before, that the Philippines does not violate labor rights, in reaction to the Global Rights Index report, which named the country as among the worst places to work in,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus.
The Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Global Rights Index assessed the compliance of 139 countries on collective labor rights, as defined by conventions passed by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ITUC used 97 indicators on workers’ rights to rank countries from 1 (best) to 5 (worst). The period covered by the evaluation is from April 2013 to March 2014.
The Philippines got a rating of 5, along with Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia.
“Despite receiving many high-profile criticisms of neglect of workers’ complaints that include the coddling of corrupt overseas officials and tolerating union busting at export processing zones, DoLE Secretary Rosalinsa Baldoz defended her performance by saying that it is doing industry advocacy.”
Still one of the worst places in the world
“What happened to the eight female workers who died in Pasay is a reflection of the situation of thousands of workers who suffer dreadful working conditions. This is proof of the continuous neglect of DoLE and the Aquino government,” said Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador.
Rep. Emmi de Jesus said she plans to file a resolution to investigate labor law violations that victimize trafficked women and girl workers. She said the recent incident that resulted in the death of eight women workers is a repeat of the May 9, 2012 fire in Butuan City that killed 18 women. Rep. De Jesus said this highlights the loopholes in the Labor Code that allow occupational hazards to proliferate.
“The government’s refusal to criminalize and prosecute safety violations consigns our defenseless women workers to modern day slavery. The Philippines will always be the worst place in the world for workers as DoLE stands idly by and merely counts dead women in killer workplaces,” De Jesus said.
The women’s group said they would conduct more protest actions in the following days to highlight the worsening conditions of Filipino women due to Aquino’s criminal neglect of the people’s interests. The protest actions will culminate in a mass mobilization during Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) in July.