MANILA, Philippines – Families of 57 of the casuaties in the Philippines' worst factory fire have dropped their claims against Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in exchange for a P151,200-($3,360) settlement, a company lawyer said Tuesday, June 23.
Families of other workers who died in the May 13 fire at the two-storey Kentex factory in Valenzuela City are expected to eventually agree to the settlement, said Kentex lawyer Renato Paraiso.
The fire at the footwear factory claimed 72 lives and sparked outrage over the allegedly unsafe conditions which contributed to the high death toll.
Labor groups also denounced Kentex for relying on contract laborers who were not paid regular salaries. (READ: Dire conditions found in factories around Kentex)
However Paraiso said the settlement includes a waiver against any further claims against Kentex.
"More or less, we gave them what is due to them," he told Agence France-Presse.
He said the settlements were not achieved through coercion, stressing that they were negotiated with Labor Department arbiters present to explain the consequences to the families.
Paraiso also said Kentex was not to blame for the fire since it was started by sparks from welders hired from a third company to repair a gate.
"We have no liability regarding what happened. It is just the moral obligation of the management in looking after the workers," he said.
Lawyers for the families of the dead could not be contacted for comment.
The minimum wage for a worker in a large factory is set at P481 per day or about $10.70.
Malacañang stressed that any settlement with Kentex must be respected.
"However, any settlement cannot bind government in as far as investigations on violations of existing rules and regulations are concerned," said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the settlements would not protect Kentex management from any criminal charges.
The Department of Justice is investigating the fire after allegations that the factory did not have sprinklers or adequate fire exits and had bars on the windows which prevented people from escaping.
President Benigno Aquino III had previously said the management could face charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide as well as labor law violations for using contractual workers. (READ: Kentex fire: Palace eyes raps vs Valenzuela officials)
Homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in jail under Philippine law.
The fire also prompted the government to inspect many other factories in the same area, only to discover numerous violations of the fire code. – Rappler.com
$1 = P45