On the 3rd month of the Kentex factory fire, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights challenged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to release the result of its investigation, hold its officials accountable  for the tragic death of 74 workers in the slipper factory in Valenzuela last May 13.

“Three months after the Kentex tragedy, we wonder what happened to DOLE’s investigation (about the fire). Where are the results? We challenge to DOLE to immediately release their findings and hold their officials accountable for their incompetence as well as scrap policies that cost the lives of many workers,” Daisy Arago CTUHR executive director said.

On July 25, DOLE reported having finished it internal investigation about the Kentex factory fire.

“Apart from the labor inspector who conducted the inspection of the Kentex factory last March 2014, we deem that higher officials of DOLE who approved and gave Kentex a certificate of compliance (COC) should be held liable for the deaths in the Kentex tragedy.

“Officials of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for giving certificate of compliance (COC) to occupational safety and health standards and labor standards despite having no fire and safety inspection certificate, glaring violations of the minimum wage law, non-remittance of social security benefits and wide use of contractual workers,” Arago said.

Inspections are “not full proof”

The group also said that inspections done by the DOLE on labor standards, labor relations and occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are “not full proof” and hardly reflect the real situation of the workers in the factories as companies are notified beforehand when the inspection will be taken place.

“The quality of inspection and the veracity of the workers’ conditions and a company’s compliance to these standards during DOLE’s inspections is questionable, to say the least. The company is notified when the inspection will be done, naturally, they can prepare,” Arago averred.

CTUHR said that based on their documentation and interview with workers, companies normally brief workers before a labor inspector arrives and asks questions about their working conditions. In a factory that produces food chips in Valenzuela for instance, the management, upon knowing when the labor inspector will arrive, reportedly has pre-selected workers who will be interviewed by the inspector. These workers were also told to sign a document saying they are regular workers when in fact they have been contractual employees for many years.

The same is true for the inspection done by the BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection), according to CTUHR. In the same factory in Valenzuela, workers were reportedly told to stay in a closed room while the fire inspection of the building was being conducted. Apparently, the building’s official registration is a warehouse, not a production site which has an entirely different set of standard structure of fire protection.

Strict enforcement, not voluntary compliance to standards

The group also scored DOLE’s penchant for voluntary compliance of companies, joint assessment and self-regulation of industries through tripartite mechanisms instead of strictly enforcing the law and standards on workers safety and health as reflected in Department Order 131-13.

“The DOLE should scrap DO 131-13 that merely provides a joint assessment of a company’s compliance to OSH standards. Capitalists are given so much leeway and privileges even to the extent that the government has practically left the workers at the mercy of companies. And since their ultimate purpose is to maximize profit, actively promoting and institutionalizing voluntary compliance and self-regulation of industries without ensuring strict enforcement and mandatory compliance to standards will inevitably result in tragedies like Kentex,” Arago said.

The group then urged the Congress to pass the consolidated version of Workers’ SHIELD bill of Gabriela Women’s Partylist. The Committee on Labor of the House of Representatives very recently approved the consolidated version of HB 4637 for plenary discussion and passage in Congress. Workers’ SHIELD bill aims to criminalize, enforce mandatory inspection of the workplace and impose higher penalties to violations of occupational safety and health standards especially those that will result in death of workers.###