By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The general public, even the government, expressed shock over the death of more than 72 workers in a fire that gutted the factory of Kentex, makers of local rubber slippers Havanas. Labor Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz vowed to look into the liability of Kentex and run after CJC Manpower Services, the firm supplying workers for Kentex. This after news reports revealed that Kentex violated the Fire Code resulting in the death of the workers who were trapped inside the building, and that the workers are contractuals; they have been receiving wages below the minimum wage and were not enjoying the benefits that they were supposed to receive under the Labor Code.
But the Department of Labor and Employment and the Bureau of Fire Protection were put in a spot when the lawyer of Kentex revealed that the company was issued certificates of compliance by both government agencies. Added to this, the lawyer of Kentex was right in saying that it is the job of the labor department to run after manpower agencies that do not comply with labor standards. Actually, it is the labor department’s doing that these manpower agencies, which supply workers providing essential services to companies, exist in the first place.
Labor Secretary Baldoz responded by saying that probably the Kentex violated labor standards after the certificate of compliance was issued to it. This is downright lame, nay B.S..
The situation of workers in Kentex – contractuals receiving paltry wages and working in factories where ‘accidents’ are waiting to happen – is not an aberration; it is representative of the situation of workers in this country.
In violation of its own Labor Code, the government has issued orders allowing “flexible work arrangements,” which translated into labor only contracting, sub-contracting of work processes, piece rate pay system, among other schemes. This has allowed companies to press down wages, deny workers the benefits that is due them, keep them as contractuals even if they have worked in the same company for decades, and gave rise to the phenomenon called “endo,” where a big segment of the workforce are employed by companies for only five months at a time.
The government has also formalized its abdication of its role of monitoring the compliance of companies to labor standards – which it did perfunctorily in the first place – by instituting the system of self-regulation. This is why because of the government’s own enactments, Labor Sec. Baldoz would not do anything beyond calling Kentex owners as “immoral.” The government might make a show of running after Kentex and CJC Manpower Services – if enough political pressure is exerted on it – but nothing would come out of the cases it would file, if any.
All of these anti-worker policies have been put in place under the neoliberal framework of deregulation and liberalization to allow companies, most especially multinational companies, their subsidiaries and partners in the country, to generate profits by cutting on labor costs.
Small and medium companies, like Kentex, have also benefited from these policies. However, pressed down by competition from multinational companies, and the flooding of imported goods, which are being sold in giant malls, these small and medium-sized factories, employing 100 or less workers, have turned into sweatshops, where workers toil under the worst conditions.
These companies comprise 99.6 percent of registered businesses in the Philippines, a testament to the industrial backwardness of the country. This also means majority of workers in the country are literally working themselves to death, be it through the slow death of poverty or the accidents that occur with increasing frequency in these sweatshops.
And the deeper the country plunges into crisis, the worse off are the conditions of workers in the country. Workers in big foreign and local companies would experience more attacks on their wages and rights, while the majority in the bottom rung would be subjected to worst conditions.
While the owners of Kentex and CJC Manpower Services should be held accountable, the government could not escape its bigger responsibility for this crime on Kentex workers, in particular, and the working class in general. But who would hold the government accountable?
The slogan “Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains” rings ever so true.