“The government refuses to learn lessons from the country’s experiences with deadly factory fires.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – A month after a mall fire in Davao killed 38 call center workers, and a year after a factory fire in House Technology Industries in Cavite killed five workers, injured hundreds and disappeared many others more, not one person has been charged or called to task yet for what many say were preventable workplace tragedies. This was the sad and angry refrain in the messages spoken outside the Quiapo Church in Manila by members of BIEN (BPO Industry Employees’ Network) and workplace safety office IOHSAD (Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development). They offered a mass and prayers for the victims of the NCCC mall fire in Davao. They lit candles and noted that these fatal workplace fire tragedies occurred inside economic zones. Thousands continue to go to work each day in the same dangerous economic zones.
In Davao City, workers under Kilusang Mayo Uno, together with labor rights advocates, also offered prayers and staged a protest outside the gutted NCCC mall to commemorate the first month of the tragedy.
Harmonie Cui, a BPO employee who has worked for nine years in the industry – since he was 21 years old, his first job — told Bulatlat they couldn’t help but worry over the plight of other workers. BPO companies are not exactly prioritizing their health and safety. He said BPO workers, and call center agents specifically, could not just stand up and leave their work booths in cases of emergency. Worse, in time of fire or earthquake, even if they were notified early on to evacuate, the building facilities or security policies might not let them evacuate freely and safely.
The fact-finding mission held recently by workers’ groups joined by BIEN revealed many dangerous workplace setups that they fear are not yet being reformed to this day.
Slow government action
Independent fact-finding missions noted fire survivors’ accounts that there were no fire alarms and that they were still working unaware that the building was already on fire. When at last they scampered out of their workplaces, they encountered problems with locked fire exits.
“The government refuses to learn lessons from the country’s experiences with deadly factory fires,” IOHSAD said in a statement.
The same absence of fire exit and fire alarm was blamed in the fire at Housing Technology Industries and earlier, at the Kentex factory fire in Valenzuela.
In all the independent fact-finding missions conducted by workers’ organizations and survivors’ personal accounts, they are violations of occupational health standards and fire safety regulations. In the NCCC mall fire, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) also confirmed through PEZA Director General Charito Plaza’s statement that Research Now SSI has not been compliant with their requirements since 2013.
In Davao, Carl Olalo, secretary-general of KIlusang Mayo Uno in Southern Mindanao, criticized the “very slow” investigation of the inter-agency task force created by the local government. The KMU demanded for the accountability of NCCC mall, Research Now! Survey Sampling International (SSI), Bureau of Fire and Protection, Local Government, Philippine Economic Zone Authority, and Department of Labor and Employment.
As with BIEN and IOHSAD, Olalo in Davao blamed the government’s gross neglect in effecting Occupational Safety and Health Standards for the “workplace infernos” in NCCC Davao, Ayala Mall-Cebu and House Technology Industries-Cavite.
“What is more infuriating is that capitalists remained scot-free over these incidents,” Olalo said.
BIEN and IOHSAD also expressed disappointment with Congress for its failure, until now, to pass proposals that would make it harder for those who scrimped and cut corners on workplace safety to just shrug and forget about the fatal workplace incidents.
The group said that industrial fires can be prevented through regular and strict inspection of compliance with OSH standards of business establishments, particularly those which are considered hazardous and fire-prone. “The government’s duty to conduct mandatory inspections of all workplaces regardless of size and kind of operation is a major provision included in the OSH Bill that is still pending for approval in the Senate,” said Nadia De Leon, IOHSAD advocacy officer.