Valenzuela factory inferno: Grim reminder of the country’s still mediocre workplace safety standards

GMA News photo

GMA News photo

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship … you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift …

I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.Rose Schneiderman, socialist, feminist, trade unionist; speech during a memorial meeting for the 146 garment workers burned to death in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911

WORKERS have a myriad of problems and struggles to overcome – low or unstable wages, meager or unreliable benefits, abusive or insensitive employers or management, no job security or contractualization, anti-worker and anti-union laws and policies, union-busting, unjust terms and conditions of employment, which may include inhumane working environment or a workplace that blatantly violates the mandated occupational safety and health standards or OSHS.

Which brings us to yet another horrible and senseless industrial tragedy yesterday (May 13) that could have been prevented if the OSHS and other related measures are strictly implemented, regularly reviewed and constantly drilled. The death toll in the 7-hour fire that engulfed the footwear factory of Kentex Manufacturing Inc. in Ugong, Valenzuela City has reached to 72 as of this Thursday afternoon. It could still increase based on earlier accounts of the workers’ relatives that aside from the initial 35 charred bodies retrieved last Wednesday, another 65 were missing and trapped mostly on the second floor of the 3,000-square-meter, two-story building.

Central to the arson investigation should be the widely perceived trigger of the blaze: Why did the company recklessly and stupidly allowed a welding job (in the front door), which generates sparks, near a place where combustible chemicals were stored and which could easily ignite? Likewise, were the two front (entrance) and back doors as well as the supposed fire exits were sufficient enough and appropriately located? And considering the number of workers trapped on the factory’s second floor, was there any possible violation of the building’s required occupancy limit?

Moreover, a report said that one of only 10 workers who managed to escape the Kentex conflagration hinted of “lax fire safety standards (that) may have contributed to the high death toll.” Employed there for five years already, but he admitted that “I had never been involved in a fire drill ever.” Fire safety regulations, part of the broader OSHS, are in fact largely ignored by many companies in the country.

The national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) extends its deepest sympathy and condolences, as well as our firm solidarity, to the families and loved ones of all the workers who perished and were injured in the Kentex fire. SENTRO and its allies in the trade union movement, especially the NAGKAISA labor coalition, strongly call on the national and local governments to fully enforce the OSHS and other related laws and regulations, and to resolutely punish all violators, including those in the absolutely revolting incident in Kentex.

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