“The government should not wait for another workplace tragedy to happen before it acts on workplace safety issues.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – “There will be new leaders after the elections, what will happen to our quest for justice?”
This is the question foremost in the mind of 12-year old Desiree, daughter of Amerasian worker Ma. Precilla Crenshaw who was killed with more than 72 others in the Kentex factory fire May last year.
Speaking before a crowd composed of former workers of Kentex slippers factory and kin of those killed in the fire, the girl lamented how she had grown up without a father, and now, she has also lost her mother. But, nearly a year since the tragedy, they and many other survivors are still demanding justice.
Her grandmother and the whole family had refused the Kentex owners’ offer of P156,000 ($3,350) as seeming total payment for indemnity and the family’s silence. They want justice and assurances that efforts are being done to prevent the recurrence of such preventable tragedy.
At the gathering of survivors in front of the gutted factory last weekend to mark the 10th month since the fire, they exchanged news about the continuing absence of progress in the criminal cases they have filed against the Kentex owners and those in government agencies who should have seen to it that the factory had fire exits at least.
They relived news of how hands of workers were seen frantically waving for help from behind the small windows buttressed by glass and steel grille. They tied white ribbons around the factory with the names of the victims written on it.
Faith Yamido, daughter of a Kentex worker who was also killed in the fire, recounted that as far as they remembered, what the factory had was a “fire entrance” and not a fire exit — “because the fire exit they were talking about led toward the interior of the factory.”
Workers believe that there were more fire victims than recorded. The spokesman of Justice for Kentex workers Alliance, Ammied Rada, said not all workers were named in the government or factory’s list of victims and missing, even as many relatives of missing workers were turning up to look for their relatives. Kentex and other similar factories were known for resorting to “pakyawan” or temporary hires during peak seasons.
“It has been 10 months since the tragedy but the owners of Kentex and government officials responsible for the workers’ deaths have not been held accountable. We also haven’t heard any updates on President Aquino’s promise to immediately inspect the 300,000 business establishments in the National Capital Region. The government should not wait for another workplace tragedy to happen before it acts on workplace safety issues,” said Nadia De Leon, advocacy officer of workplace safety NGO Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD).
Insufficient government response hit
De Leon said the Kentex management clearly violated occupational health and safety standards such as the proper storage of flammable chemicals which caused the tragic fire, absence of the required fire exits in the workplace, and warning signals to ensure its workers’ safety.
She added that the proprietors of Kentex also virtually imprisoned its workers by putting steel matting in the factory’s windows.
For these reasons, many who saw the evidences in the gutted factory’s layout itself and the number of victims anticipated the quick filing of charges and trial of those responsible. But so far the hearing on criminal charges had started only recently. At the Labor department, the Kentex owners are still reportedly seeking to reduce the amount it was as asked to pay the workers for labor violations.
The workers under Kilusang Mayo Uno have also asked workers and other voters to campaign against candidates such as Mar Roxas, the administration’s standard-bearer, who, they said, is accountable as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government supervises the Bureau of Fire Protection; and senatorial candidate Leila de Lima, who, as the former Justice secretary, could have helped hasten the filing of charges and prosecution of those accountable to the Kentex fire tragedy.
De Leon urged candidates running for the Senate and Congress to express support to House Bill 6397 which was passed after the third reading in the 16th Congress.
The bill seeks to legalize stiff punishments for companies that commit occupational health and safety standards violations, especially those that cause injuries or death to workers. It also requires the Department of Labor and Employment to carry out mandatory inspection of employers’ compliance with occupational health and safety standards.