It’s ‘abuse’ to prevent workers’ evacuation during earthquake – labor group

MANILA, Philippines – Labor group Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) hit employers who refused to let workers evacuate from buildings when a magnitude 6.1 earthquake rocked Luzon on Monday, April 22, and then made them resume work right after, without waiting for the structural integrity of the buildings to be checked. 

TUCP president Raymond Mendoza said the group received several reports from employees about managers, supervisors, and employers who did not practice safety precautions as workers were made to remain indoors during the earthquake.

He said some employees were also ordered to keep working “despite of the dangers and hazards on the workplace caused by the quake.”

“This company practice or policy is a form of abuse and it must be condemned because it imperils the lives of their employees and jeopardizes the safety and health of workers,” Mendoza said on Tuesday, April 23. (READ: All you need to know about preparing for earthquakes)

TUCP did not name the companies where workers were supposedly prevented from evacuating. However, TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said they received complaints from workers in call centers and the business process outsourcing industry. 

After the strong earthquake in Luzon was felt at 5:11 pm on Monday, evacuations of government offices, private offices, schools, and buildings were conducted as a precautionary measure. 

In the event of an earthquake, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) recommends that people find a safe exit and move to an open area that's far away from trees, power lines, posts, and concrete structures.

Safety first always

Mendoza reminded employers and business owners that it is their responsibility to put safety first and ensure their employees are kept safe and secure during workplace disasters, earthquakes, and fires, among others.

Employers, he said, should check on buildings and workplaces for possible damage caused by tremors during the earthquake to prevent future accidents from occurring.

“It is possible that the damage may not be immediately obvious, but it already impacted the integrity of the workplace structure and may cause irreparable damage upon aftershocks and future earthquakes,” Mendoza said.

The group reminded employees that under Republic Act 11058 or An Act Strengthening Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Standards, workers have the right to refuse work if the workplace is unsafe.

The law says workers may do so, without threat from their employer. 

“If workers were forced to work despite of the notice of unsafe workplace, employers, contractors and business-owners are administratively liable,” Mendoza said.

Under RA 11058, employers, contractors, sub-contractors, or work supervisors who violate this law, will have to pay a fine of P100,000 for every day that a violation is not remedied, counting from the day the employer is notified or the compliance order is issued by the Department of Labor and Employment.

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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