On the 2nd Month of the worst factory fire in the PH: Tragedy of Kentex Workers, a tragedy of every Filipino contractual worker

Today marks the second month of the worst factory fire in the country, leaving at least 74 dead workers who were trapped inside the factory floor. An independent fact-finding mission that was conducted by labor NGOs and unions showed major violations in the basic occupational health and safety (OHS) standards of Kentex. However, beyond the non-compliance of the basic OHS standards inside the workplace showed a long list of other basic labor standards violation by the Kentex management, the most glaring is rampant contractualization.

The violation on basic labor standards of Kentex did not end in their OHS violations that instantly took the lives of the 74 workers. Slowly and gradually, the lives of workers in Kentex were siphoned by non-payment of minimum wage, benefits, and social security, and rampant contractualization,” said Anna Leah Escresa-Colina, the Executive Director of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Inc. (EILER).

EILER was part of the independent Fact-Finding Mission that gathered information from the survivors and families of victims. Members of the Fact-Finding Mission later facilitated the formation of the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance which is a broad campaign network of organizations and families of the victims and survivors.

“Majority of the victims and survivors of the Kentex factory were hired as contractuals. They were piece-rate, agency-hired, and casuals. Contractualization was so rabid in Kentex that 65% of its total workforce was on temporary employment,” added Escresa-Colina.

The Philippine Constitution provides that every worker has a right to security of tenure. Unfortunately in Kentex, even if workers had been hired from one year to 17 years, they remained contractual. Only workers who reached 20 years of service become regular for the Kentex management, with only 30 regular workers out of its 200 total workforce. Data gathered by the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance from the 73 combined survivors and families of victims proved this to be true as 57% or 41 victims and survivors had been working from one (1) year to seventeen (17) years but were never regularized. Data also showed that 78% of them were agency-hired, casual and piece-rated. Majority were hired by CJC Manpower, cabo and other unnamed agency. Workers under CJC Manpower receive only a daily wage of Php 202, which is less than half of the required minimum wage rate in NCR. While piece-rate or pakyawan workers toil for twelve (12) hours a day without formal contract. The agency does not remit their SSS and PhilHealth contributions. While twelve (12) of the remaining victims and survivors gathered by the Alliance just started working in Kentex for weeks to 3 months only, though they had been contractual for years in various agency hopping from one factory to another as soon as they reach their endo.

The rabid contractualization in Kentex is a manifestation of the tragedy of majority of our Filipino workers who are gradually and quietly being robbed of a secured future for their families because their right to security of tenure is systematically violated by capitalists and the state,” explained Escresa-Colina.

Employers, either small or large companies, through the years had made contractualization the norm for employment for most Filipino workers. The contractualization issue of Kentex workers is no different from the contractualization problems faced by Tanduay workers, owned by one of Asia’s billionaire, Lucio Tan, and the talents from GMA-7 Network. Ninety percent (90%) or workforce in Tanduay Brewery are contractuals and majority had been working for more than five (5) years, while workers in GMA-7 had been regarded as talents from six (6) years to nine (9) years. Workers from both companies fought for their regularization and had already won their labor cases with decisions in favor of their regularization of employment. However, their employers continue to defy the Court’s decisions and even illegally dismissed some of the workers who were fighting for their rights.

This dismal state of rampant contractual employment of majority of Filipino workers is not the sole responsibility of employers and companies. The government had served as ‘one huge State Cabo’ of thousands of cheap Filipino laborers to both foreign and local businesses by promoting various flexible forms of employment through its anti-labor policies, pro-business decisions in courts, and allowing impunity on violations of the right to security of tenure,” explained Escresa-Colina.

The group demanded that Justice be given for Kentex workers and joined the call of hundreds of workers from other factories and workplaces to bring an end to contractualization.

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