On February 26, the ANROEV network lost a long time friend and supporter of our fight for Labour Rights and a healthy and safe environment. Earl V. Brown, Jr., Solidarity Center labor and employment law counsel, succumbed to complications following a long bout with pneumonia. Earl was a long term labour activist in USA and had helped build a broader global labour and social justice movement. He will be Sorely Missed!
Media Release – 01 March 2017
HTI fire one month after
Government refuses to learn lessons, workplace safety advocate says
One month after the fire in the House Technology Industries (HTI) inside the Cavite Export Processing Zone left many workers injured and still many others unaccounted for and possibly dead, a workplace safety NGO said the government refuses to learn lessons from the country’s experiences with deadly factory fires.
The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) said it is no accident that two of the biggest industrial fires in the country’s history happened after the Department of Labor and Employment approved its order regarding labor laws compliance in 2013.
“The HTI fire, and the Kentex fire before it, show that the government’s devotion to ‘voluntary compliance’ has only put workers’ lives in great danger. Blind trust on employers’ honest disclosure of real working conditions and their compliance with workplace safety and health standards is fatal to workers,” said Nadia De Leon, IOHSAD advocacy officer.
The Kentex fire tragedy in May 2015 claimed the lives of more than 72 workers. Both Kentex and HTI received certificates stating their compliance with general labor and occupational safety and health (OSH) standards months before they were razed by fire – the first from DOLE, the second from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.
Fact-finding missions after the fire tragedies revealed the following grave violations of OSH standards: (1) chemicals and other easily combustible materials were not stored properly, (2) fire alarm systems were not in place, (3) workers were trapped because of locked fire exits and emergency exits led to the burning building instead of safe and fire-resistant areas.
“The OSH violations revealed by the injuries and deaths caused by the fires show that companies violate safety standards and the government’s so-called labor inspection is anomalous, to say the least. Despite these criminal violations, no employer has been truly held accountable,” said de Leon.
IOHSAD said that industrial fires can be prevented through regular and strict inspection of compliance with OSH standards by business establishments, particularly those which are considered hazardous and fire-prone. It said that the government should conduct mandatory inspection of all workplaces regardless of size and kind of operation.
“When will the government learn? Is it waiting for the ‘Big Fire’ to happen inside economic zones or factory belts before it ensures workers’ safety and truly implement mandatory inspection of workplaces?” de Leon asked.
The group said it will not stop until employers who violate safety and health standards, especially those that cause the death of workers, are held accountable and until victims attain justice.###
Reference: Nadia De Leon, Advocacy Officer, IOHSAD, 0917-6252919
Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development 406 Ramagi Building, 1081 Pedro Gil Avenue Paco 1007, Manila, Philippines + 63 2 521 1216
On the House Technology Industries (HTI) Factory Fire
(Excerpts from the Full Report of the National Fact-Finding Mission Held on February 4-5, 2017)
On February 1, 2017, at around 6 PM, a fire broke inside the premises of the three-storey building owned by HTI. Accounts from the workers indicated that between 1,000-2,000 workers were inside the building at that time. Some of the workers were about to leave HTI and some were coming in for their shift.
Authorities declared the fire under control on February 2 at 12:30 PM. However, the building continued to emit heavy smoke flames again by 7 PM until about past 11 PM. By February 3, BFP Region IV-A Director Sergio Soriano officially declared “fire out.” On February 4, the Governor of Cavite said that there were no fatalities, only the 126 workers injured and that all employees have been accounted for.
On February 2, CTUHR, IOHSAD, EILER and KMU dispatched a Quick Response Team and initial fact-finding Mission in the area to check on the situation. Cavite-based organizations also joined and kept a round-the clock incident monitoring until the morning of February 4. Interviews with HTI workers in surrounding communities were conducted, and all of the respondents remarked that many were trapped and presumed dead inside the burning building, contrary to the prior announcement of Cavite Governor Boying Remulla. Workers’ and witnesses claims prompted a much broader NFFM on February 4 and 5.
Conclusions and Recommendations
- The Cavite LGU, PEZA and the Bureau of Fire Protection had all admitted that a thorough investigation has not been conducted on the fire incident, despite the strong allegations that many could have been trapped inside the burning building. Cavite Governor Remulla has also announced a clearing operation even if no thorough investigation has been started nor in the beginning of admission that SOCO and BFP has not really gone to inspect every nook of the burnt buildings.
- Suspicions of cover-up is increasing as full disclosure of workers particularly those hired by the six manpower agencies had not been done. Contractual workers claim that even in normal circumstances, agency-hired workers are not counted or considered HTI workers.
- In an environment with light, inflammable materials and combustible chemicals, why is it that there were no sprinklers and other fire safety measures to contain the fire? Why is a building considered compliant, when it does not follow the mandated numbers of fire exits? Has the Bureau of Fire Protection factored this in their investigation in dismissing the workers’ claims that no one was trapped?
- Based on the very detailed accounts of the workers with regard to the building’s entry and exit points, did those spaces and passageways meet the requirements stipulated under the Fire Code and the National Building Code for structure with more than 500 occupants (HTI employs thousands of workers at a given time)? Was the width and height faithful to the standards set by the law to allow safe movement of people, especially for places where there are highly combustible materials? Is the number of safety officers who should have been on-duty compliant as well.
- There were more women working in the Quality Control in the 3rd floor including a pregnant woman who jumped out from the 3rd floor window and more possibly trapped. From the reported 126 workers injured brought to hospital, the NFFM looked and pursued the list supplied by Divine Grace Medical Center and the General Trias Hospital posted outside the hospital building and from other hospital that were publicized, there were 25 women.
The NFFM can’t help but ask, where were those women workers? What happened to that pregnant woman? The distance from the ground floor to the third floor is high, as vertical clearance alone from the 1st to the 2nd floor, where containers are brought in, is estimated to about 18 feet (5.49 meters) high.
Given these very crucial questions, NFFM believed that those interviewed have all the reasons to believe Gov. Remulla’s claim that everyone was accounted for.
Having said the above, the NFFM recommends the following:
- Immediate, transparent, thorough, independent and impartial investigation on the HTI tragedy free from intervention by the HTI management, PEZA and Cavite LGU to lend credence to the result. To the very least, the investigation must pave way for full and complete disclosure of casualties so that justice can find its course.
- A review of the company’s Certificate of Compliance vis-a-vis the National Building Code, Fire Code and the Fire Protection and Control under Occupational Safety and Health Standards of 1989, and to hold accountable all those responsible for the fire tragedy.
- A full disclosure of HTI workers hired through the agencies, complete list of workers accounted for, and complete examination to find out if the agencies are accredited by DOLE since they exhibit Labor Only Contracting practices.
- Repeal Department Order 131-13 and implement the mandatory, strict and frequent safety inspection of all establishments by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Results of the inspection should be approved by the genuine representative of the workers and presented to the public immediately. The inspecting authorities should take measures against companies concealing their safety standards.
- Support the immediate passage of the Worker’s SHIELD (Safety and Health Inspection and Employer’s Liability Decree) as it is a big leap towards the mandatory inspection of all establishments.
- End the anti-union discrimination, promote and respect the workers right to freedom of association not only to represent workers in their workplaces but serves as monitors for OSH standards implementation;
- Review and amend, and when necessary repeal the Special Economic Zone Act of 1994 that grants authority to economic zones to operate under independent charter, and to function independently away from scrutiny of government agencies and the general public and act like separate entity, i.e. a government with separate labor laws and regulations.
See full report here: http://ctuhr.org/hti-nffm-fina lreport/
The Philippine government’s continuing “hands off” policy on workplace safety and other labor standards has made workplaces more dangerous and deadly for workers.
Its continuous adherence with voluntary compliance, instead of mandatory labor inspection, as a framework on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) is one of the immediate reasons for the mounting deaths and injuries in workplaces across the country.
Less than two years after the Kentex fire tragedy, which claimed the lives of more than 72 workers, a bigger workplace fire occurred in a Special Economic Zone which affected thousands of workers. The House Technology Industries (HTI) fire in Cavite Economic Zone last February 1 left more than a hundred workers injured and one worker dead as of this writing. There were accounts gathered from HTI workers that state that there are many workers who are still unaccounted for and were possibly trapped inside the burnt building.
Government policies supposedly mandating voluntary compliance with OSH and other labor standards as well as the jurisdiction of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) over ecozones including occupational safety are key policies that cause workplace tragedies such as the fire in HTI in CEPZ.
The DOLE brags about supposedly “tripartite” means in upholding voluntary compliance, where the government through the DOLE, the workers and the employers are involved. Such a policy will amount to nothing, especially in the country’s ecozones where the right to unionize and collectively bargain are being violated with impunity. In the first place, the majority of workers there are contractuals, whose right to regular employment is being violated. What ever “joint assessment” is conducted is surely between the PEZA-DOLE and the employer.
A deadly fire inside a special economic zone where tens of thousands of workers are employed force us not only to question these policies but to point to them as crucial in putting the workers’ lives in constant danger.
Voluntary compliance as a framework for adherence to OSH and other labor standards and PEZA’s autonomous zone violate the workers’ right to health and safety in the workplace. These two policies only serve the interests of employers in the ecozones, allowing them to freely disregard and therefore violate OSH standards.
The HTI fire and the slow, incomplete and confusing reports on this workplace tragedy put these government policies in question:
(1) Special Economic Zone Act of 1995: “PEZA, in coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment, shall conduct periodic inspection of plants within the ECOZONE to check on the compliance with health, medical, occupational and safety standards of the buildings, structures and electro-mechanical equipment and machineries, as well as on the general condition and maintenance of the plant.”
- Why is the PEZA tasked to uphold OSH and other labor standards, when it is under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and is primarily tasked to attract foreign investors to its sites?
- It is highly questionable that PEZA has the responsibility to ensure the inspection of plants within the ecozones when factories here employ large number of workers and usually engage in hazardous work.
- What are PEZA’s guidelines in conducting OSH inspection? How regular does it conduct OSH inspection in factories?
(2) DOLE 131-B Series of 2016: Revised Labor Laws Compliance System Ecozone-wide assessment of Voluntary Compliance states : “The Regional Director shall coordinate with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority Director General and Zone Manager or Zone Administrator, as the case may be, the conduct of an Ecozone-wide Assessment of locators’ voluntary compliance with labor standards and occupational safety and heatlth standards.”
- This provision in the said Department Order clearly shows how powerless DOLE is in relation to PEZA as it needs to coordinate with the latter to be able to conduct an Ecozone-wide assessment. Voluntary compliance promoted by the government gives workplaces in ecozones license to freely violate labor and safety standards and place the workers’ lives in constant danger.
Almost a week after the deadly fire, we pose these challenges to the officials of PEZA, DOLE and the HTI Management. We also demand urgent responses and concrete actions from these agencies.
- We challenge PEZA Director General Charito Plaza to fully and truthfully disclose the details and results of the labor inspection she claimed that PEZA conducted in HTI. When exactly did the inspection happen? Who conducted the inspection? What were the results and basis for declaring HTI as compliant with general labor and occupational health and safety standards?
- We challenge Department of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to include labor centers and other cause-oriented groups who have initiated fact-finding missions in conducting a thorough investigation of the HTI fire. Meetings among all the agencies involved should be made public and participation of workers and labor groups should be ensured.
- We challenge the HTI management to open its records and factory gates to the media and public. Allow workers to be interviewed and give their testimonials and full account of the fire. Stop threatening workers who are willing to give details and information about the fire.
Lastly, we call on the Senate to immediately act on House Bill 64 (An act strengthening compliance with occupational safety and health standards and providing penalties for violations thereof), which was approved by the House of Representatives last December 2016. The tragic HTI fire makes it urgent for the senators to pass a counterpart measure that will legislate the following demands : (1) Department of Labor’s mandatory inspection of all establishments, including workplaces in ecozones, and disallow any form of employer-discretion based compliance with OSH laws; 2) the imposition of stiffer penalties and imprisonment to companies who violate OSH standards.
Justice for HTI Workers!
Investigate and prosecute the owners of House Technology Industries!
Junk Department Order 131-B! Voluntary compliance puts workers’ lives in danger!
Junk Special Economic Zone Act of 1995!
Workers’ health and safety is government responsibility!
Criminalize OSH standards violations!
Safe working conditions for Filipino workers!
Reference: Nadia De Leon, IOHSAD Advocacy Officer, 0917-6252919
Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development 406 Ramagi Building, 1081 Pedro Gil Avenue Paco 1007, Manila, Philippines + 63 2 521 1216
Workers’ deaths at the ship-breaking yards of Chittagong are a common incident, as is environmental poisoning. But researchers have now detected one deadly illness that has been silently affecting the workers for decades.
In a recent study, Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) found that almost 33% of the ship-breaking workers are affected by asbestosis, an incurable disease caused by breathing the mineral in the form of dust or fume.
The health survey, led by asbestosis expert Dr Murali Dhar, among ship-breaking workers in Chittagong’s Sitakunda upazila, examined 101 workers in two phases and found 33 workers affected with the disease. Of them, eight had become 60% disabled from the disease. Read More
OSHE foundation organised a press conference to highlight this issue on February 2, 2017 to highlight and share the workers health survey and diagnosis conducted