DAVAO CITY – Lack of standard safety equipment and a union to fight for the workers’ safety highlighted the recent incident that killed a coconut manufacturing worker and injured six others here.

“Capitalists, company owners and the management is only after profit, even to the point of not spending any amount on safety gear and equipment and not following mandated laws,” said former Anakpawis partylist representative Joel Maglungsod.

Maglungsod, now the Vice-President for Mindanao of militant labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno, cited a recent incident where a worker of Superstar Coconut Products Co., Inc., died and 6 others injured when one its steam boiler exploded.

“According to workers of Superstar, they are even the ones paying for their own safety equipment,” said Maglungsod adding that the Superstar “violated” Rule 1080 in the Philippine Occupational Safety and Health Standards.

Workers interviewed by Davao Today said they buy hair caps, boots and production tools from the company.

They also complained that the company’s clinic “does not give them first aid treatment during accidents and refuse to give them medicine for basic illnesses.”

Maglungsod said they want to investigate why “it took a long time for workers to get out and head for safety.”

“We want to know if they have two fire exits in every floor as stipulated in the law,” he said.

In a television interview, Department of Labor and Employment Region XI Director Jefrey Suyao said the agency is still investigating the incident.

“The company’s main boiler wass defective so decided to use the one that exploded,” he said.

Suyao also said that workers must still receive pay even if there is a work stoppage order.

However, Superstar workers said their wages are based on how many loads they are able to finish per week.

Superstar workers had long demanded for safety measures and a union.

Two months of daily workers’ pickets were resolved in 2011 and averted  a workers strike when the Kahugpungan sa Trabahante sa Superstar settled a compromise agreement with the Superstar Coconut Products, Inc. management as mediated by the Secretary of Labor and the Regional Conciliation and Mediation Board.

At that time, the workers were made to sign a waiver of their right to organize union as a pre-requisite for their salaries to be released. The compromise agreement supposedly grants their demands to implement occupational safety and health measures and equipments, pay unpaid overquota, end unionbusting and reinstate active union members from lowered positions.

KMU claims the company violated the compromise agreement.

Meanwhile, Maglungsod said than in their survey, 60%  of companies in the country “violated  health and safety standards.”

Safety violations were found after an early morning fire last May 9, 2012 which gutted the Novo Jeans and Shirts retail shop (NVJS) in Butuan, killing all 17 of its workers who were inside the building.

The incident spurred protests from the National Council of the KMU as they picketed two branches of NVJS, demanding that the management should uphold the rights of its workers to a just wage and safe working conditions.

KMU Caraga regional chair Edwin Batac reportedly said aside from safety violations, NVJS  is paying its workers only P150 per day, but is forcing workers to sign other payroll showing that they are receiving the minimum wage.KMU also claimed that workers are made to work 12 hours a day without overtime pay.

In other cases, Maglunsod claimed that “when an incident occurs, the management avoids paying  their workers’ hospital bills and medical needs.”

Silvestre Culiao, a forklift driver for a plywood company Mintrade, suffered from blindness when he was hit with debris while transporting cargo last February.

Culiao said his hospital and medical bills reached over P30,000.

“They will deduct the amount as bale (advanced) from my separation pay which is P50,000,” he said.

He said he already received his sickness leave pay amounting to P7,675 but he it should have been twice that.

“They told me to get the rest from SSS (Social Security System),” he said.

“In my 12  years with the company, I was only given one set of safety equipment which included goggles. Once damaged, the company did not replace any of the gadgets,” said Culiao.

Maglungsod said that “whether or not there is a union, it is the company’s responsibility to give safety equipment to workers.”

He also said that that despite pronouncements of the Labor Sectary that the situation of workers in the country is good, the International Trade Union Confederation’s global index, said that the situation of labor in the Philippines is “worse.”

“Gusto magtukod og unyon ang mga trabahante, pakgangon sa mga kapitalista (Workers want to form unions but capitalists destroy them),” he said.

Carl Olalo, also forklift operator and President of Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Master’s Port Services, Inc, said identified union leaders and members are threatened by the company owner himself.

“We formed a union to counter the ‘admin union’ but the owner didn’t like it. He said he would get rid of all who voted for us during the certification election,” he said.

Olalo said they were not able to win in the certification election because of threats and harassments.

“They already fired two of our 59 members and gave successive suspension orders to the rest. Eight of our members, some of them working for the company for nearly a decade without any suspensions, were suspended for six days,” Olalo said.(davaotoday.com)

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