The recent NCCC mall fire that took the lives of 38 workers should be the final tragedy in the workplace and lawmakers must take a closer look at the Special Economic Zone Act of 1994 and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, according to a labor non-government organization.
The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) criticized the Act that grants authority to economic zones as an independent charter, freely operating from government regulations and established standards on workers’ rights and welfare.
“An impartial, transparent, and thorough investigation of the tragedies inside economic zones, including review of the compliance of NCCC mall and Research Now SSI to the National Building Code, Fire Code and the Fire Protection and Control under Occupational Safety and Health Standards should be completed immediately. PEZA, DTI, DOLE, Davao LGU and mall owners must be held responsible,” EILER executive director Rochelle Porras said in a statement on Friday.
EILER again criticized the Department of Labor and Employment on its Labor Laws Compliance System, which encourages voluntary compliance of business owners through less government intervention. The labor NGO said that this has led to more freedom for businesses to circumvent the laws and lack of accountability from both local and national government. Over the years, the worst tragedies in workplaces happened inside the Philippine economic “Death Zones,” referring to the vast track of the country’s productive lands converted to economic zones in which businesses receive special treatments at the expense of workers’ lives. EILER lamented the hundreds of unaccounted workers who remain missing after being trapped in a fire that consumed the Housing Technology Industries (HTI) located in the Cavite Export Processing Zone in February 2017.
“We’ve seen this during the HTI tragedy and yet here we are again. The lack of concrete measures from the labor department concerning workplace tragedies is truly appalling. Its silence on workers’ issues and dire conditions inside these economic zones has permitted capitalists to continue exploiting workers, resulting to loss of lives and gross violations of labor rights under the neoliberal economic policies promoted by the Duterte administration,” Porras said.
The labor NGO stressed that Duterte administration must hold PEZA, DTI, DOLE, Davao LGU and New City Commercial Corp. management accountable for promoting anti-union policies of economic zones to foreign investors, disregarding workers’ rights to freedom of association. This has had chilling effects not only on representing workers themselves in bargaining in workplaces but also in monitoring strict implementation of OSH standards.
“What happened to HTI, to NCCC mall, and to previous workplace tragedies are industrial manslaughter of workers. We must not allow PEZA or any government agency to exist if it only does so to violate health and safety standards in workplaces and continue operating with such negligence. It’s time we promote a people-oriented trade laws that prioritizes building our national industry and not foreign investments,” Porras said.
“We express our deepest condolences and are one with the victims and their families in calling for justice and accountability.” Porras concluded. #
Watch the press conference held in Quezon City on January 5 here: https://www.facebook.com/BIENPilipinas/videos/1767663346640317/