MANILA, May 19, 2015 -– Several Catholic bishops expressed concern over the Valenzuela fire, which claimed the lives of at least 72 workers from Kentex Manufacturing Wednesday last week.
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo A. Alminaza said the Valenzuela incident was the third fire that claimed workers’ lives under the Aquino administration. He said last week’s fire again showed the hazards faced by workers in many factories across the country.
“The death of so many workers shows that the government’s mechanism for labor assessment is seriously flawed and has exposed the abusive conditions for millions of poor and desperate workers across the nation,” the 55-year-old bishop said in a statement.
Not the first
He said the Kentex fire was not the first to claim workers’ lives.
“On May 9,2012, 17 workers of Novo Jeans and Shorts in Butuan City died when a fire broke out and on April 30, 2014, eight workers of Asia Micro Tech in Pasay City died in another fire,” he said.
He added often these tragedies in the Philippines pass without anyone being held accountable.
“We are deeply saddened that not a single capitablist has been judged guilty and jailed for the death of workers in the workplace,” he said.
Citing Gaudium et Spes 27, ( “All violations of the integrity of the human person, all offenses against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, gegrading working conditions where men/women are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons: all these and the like are criminal: they poison civilization” ), Alminaza said the church sees violations of occupational health and safety standards that result in workers’ deaths as criminal acts.
Man, not profit
Speaking for the Church People and Workers in Solidarity, Reclaim the Dignity of Human Work!, the bishop said they condemn the continued neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights through anti-labor policies.
“Contractualization is still prevalent in many factories across the country,” he said. He added this scheme results in the dissolution of unions and the dismantling of regular workers’ protection and benefits. He cited the Department of Labor and Employment for its revelations about Kentex Corporation’s use of an illegal sub-contractor and violations of certain provisions of the Labor Code where workers were paid below the minimum wage and were forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week bereft of overtime pay.
He cited ILO Director General Guy Ryder’s statement to make workplaces safe, there lies a need to carry out regular inspectors to ensure that factories “comply with structural, fire and electrical safety; and by ensuring workers’ rights, especially freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
He concluded saying Pope Francis has joined millions of workers in their fight to “construct a society and an economy where man and his good, and not money, may be the center.”
Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, Jr. said government and employers should always put people and their safety as top priority even before profit. He added it is never too late for government authorities and business leaders to see this. Bacani was a member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission.
For Malaybalay Bishop Jose Araneta Cabantan, a former chemical engineer before he entered the priesthood, It is true that it is never enough for one to get employed.
“It is not just about being employed but being safe and [considering] one’s workplace as second home for workers to develop as persons,” the 57-year-old bishop said.
Citing Laborem Exercens, Bishop Cabantan said “The primacy of labor over capital needs to be realized.”
For Bishop Martin Jumoad from one of the poorest areas in the Philippines, the Prelature of Isabella de Basilan, he said ordinary workers, especially those who have not finished high school, take and accept risky jobs just to help and support their families.
“Our government agencies must look after their situation in various workplaces so that tragedies similar to the Valenzuela incident should not be repeated,” he explained.
He also called for the strict implementation of existing rules of occupational health and safety. (Melo M. Acuña/CBCPNews)