Construction workers’ death in Cebu highlights need for pro-worker OSH law – EILER

TYPICAL | This is not in Cebu but it shows similar practice of construction workers. They take a rest where they can within the construction site. On sight are office and apartment buildings none of these construction workers would likely ever sleep in. (Ortigas Center, Pasig City / Photo by Raymund Villanueva)

MANILA — The death of five construction workers while asleep in their bunkhouse should prompt the labor department and lawmakers to criminalize violations on occupational safety and health standards, said a labor non-government organization.

The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) criticized the non-compliance with work safety by J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc., which made possible the collapse of the 4-story bunkhouse, killing five workers and injuring 158 others. Initial investigation of local authorities suggested that the firm might not have a business permit since 2001.

“The management of J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. as well as DOLE and Cebu City LGU have fallen short in ensuring safety of the workers. They must be held accountable for neglecting strict implementation and monitoring of OSH standards and disregarding workers’ rights to a safe workplace and shelter,” said Rochelle Porras, EILER executive director.

Aside from the lack of permit and compliance, the fatal accident in the workplace underscored again the precarious working condition in the construction industry where workers have little to no choice but to stay within the project site. EILER noted that the barracks for workers are treated as extra project costs to minimize as much as possible, which is why these are often substandard.

“Accounts of the tragedy show that the bunkhouse were only supported by metal braces and clamps. DOLE Department Order 128-13 series of 2013 has set stringent standards even only for the construction of scaffolding, which should be done by certified scaffold erectors and designed by a structural engineer. More is expected when it comes to the shelter of the workers,” Porras said.

To prevent such deaths of the workers many labor NGOs and groups have been calling for a mandatory and rigorous inspection without exemption. “Eton construction in 2011, partial collapse of Ayala Land Premier building project in Taguig (Makati Development Corporation) in 2015, Kentex fire in 2015, Semirara Mining Corporation’s open pit coal mine collapse in 2015, HTI fire in 2016, NCCC mall fire in 2017 among many other tragedies, emphasize the importance of a mandatory inspection and strict compliance of companies to labor laws to guarantee safety of workers,” Porras said.

The House of Representatives had passed the Gabriela Women’s Party- introduced Workers’ Safety and Health Inspection and Employers Liability Decree (Workers’ SHIELD Bill) which calls for mandatory inspection and criminalization of OSH violations. But these two provisions were removed in the Senate version of the bill.

While condoling with the victims’ families mourning the loss of their loved ones and breadwinners, Porras of EILER said they will join them also in demanding justice.

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