Sentro slams loopholes in labor standards inspection, certification

kentex2-300x233KENTEX FIRE

SECRETARY Rosalinda Baldoz made a hasty turnaround by branding the owners of Kentex Manufacturing Inc. “not only illegal but also immoral,” when a day before she said that the ill-fated factory has duly conformed to the general labor standards (GLS) and occupational safety and health standards (OSHS).

Baldoz announced last Thursday – a day after the horrifying fire that killed at least 72 Kentex workers – that the Valenzuela City-based slippers and sandals firm was granted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) a certificate of compliance (COC) with GLS and OSHS following two inspections in January and September last year.

Baldoz explained that the COC issued by the DOLE-National Capital Region office proved that Kentex passed a joint assessment conducted by a DOLE labor inspector (labor laws compliance officer or LLCO) and representatives from the management and workers. She added that the company has even a safety committee that oversees safety rules and regulations.

Sick joke

The national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) found Baldoz’ first statement to be distasteful or a sick joke in view of the Kentex fire’s high casualties with more than 20 still missing as well as the anguish of the victims’ families.

Even the company lawyer has virtually flaunted the DOLE’s COC as well as the fire safety certification from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to deflect the growing public anger and criticism against the Kentex owners.

Josua Mata, Sentro secretary general, said that despite the about-face of Baldoz and the DOLE’s Department Order No. 131, series of 2013 (DO 131-13), or the Rules on Labor Laws Compliance System (LLCS), there is still much to be desired in the country’s GLS and OSHS inspection mechanism and enforcement, as well as on the need for enough number of LLCOs.

‘Amazing inspections’

Sentro expressed its amazement how the purported multiple “inspections” in the Kentex factory by the DOLE, BFP and the local government of Valenzuela failed to notice the very glaring fire hazards posed by the building’s narrow windows boarded up with iron grills and wire mesh that “not even cats could escape through.”

These concentration camp-like windows have trapped the workers and prevented them from escaping on the second floor from the fire that started on the ground floor.

Sentro further enumerated the company’s gross violations of OSHS – the prison-like windows, inadequate fire exits, absence of the mandatory sprinklers and fire drills in factories, overcrowding (number of workers vis-à-vis the size of the building), welding job near highly flammable chemicals that actually triggered the fire, and prior to the incident, the constant exposure of workers to foul-smelling chemicals.

And only after the tragedy that many other glaring violations of other labor laws were exposed in Kentex – GLS, minimum wage, social security and health benefits, illegal subcontracting (so the use of underpaid and overworked contractual workers).

Thus, the complaints of salaries below the minimum wage, withholding pensions, health benefits and other social security benefits (SSS, Philhealth, Pag-Ibig), and 12-hour working days. Kentex is also accused of using a fly-by-night labor subcontractor, the CJC Manpower Services, which had 104 workers at Kentex during the fire, 34 of whom were reported missing and presumed to be among the charred bodies found.

The DOLE immediately washed its hands of any responsibility regarding the said subcontractor by stating that Kentex might have hired CJC Manpower – which in turn provided the company with cheap piece-rate labor – only after the factory was awarded a COC with labor standards (GLS), such as on paying minimum wage and benefits, overtime pay, appropriate working hours, remittance of social security, etc.

This was seconded by Baldoz when she charged Kentex of using “the legitimacy of (DOLE) assessment as (a) cloak to circumvent our laws.” She emphatically added that Kentex “has engaged and is engaging the services of an illegal subcontractor … a violation of the Labor Code.”

Inspecting the labor laws compliance ‘inspection’

Government data show that a total of 76,880 companies were inspected in 2014, compared to an average of 23,400 firms checked in the previous decade. A high of 76 percent or 51,569 companies were deemed “compliant” with the GLS and OSHS.

However, in 2013 there were only close to 600 labor inspectors (LLCOs), a measly number compared to 944,897 business establishments operating in the Philippines as of 2012 – 99.6 percent or 940,886 are MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) and 0.42 percent or 4,011 are large enterprises.

Likewise, the focus on the so-called “voluntary compliance” and “self-assessment” in the DOLE’s LLCS has been described by a labor leader as if the government is “asking the wolf to guard the sheep. No wonder the sheep get slaughtered.”

Thus, there are suggestions to deputize reputable trade union leaders as LLCOs to substantially increase the ranks of labor inspectors and LLC inspections. The LLCOs from the unions and from the DOLE must of course undergo an intensive seminar and training on labor laws and LLCS, and could resist bribery and other forms of corruption that are routinely dangled by unscrupulous employers.

Sentro further added that organized labor should sit down to review the current LLCS with the end view of fixing its loopholes (legal, procedural, etc.) or weaknesses, increasing the coverage, strengthening the mechanism, and ensuring its enforcement.

“This drive is of course part and parcel of the overall campaign of the labor movement to uphold and protect labor and trade union rights,” Sentro said.

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