Labor unions slam DOLE over Davao mall fire deaths

MANILA, Philippines – Labor unions slammed the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Tuesday, December 26, over the deaths of 37 workers in a Davao City mall fire.

The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), a labor coalition, said the Davao mall fire deaths stem from a failure to enforce labor laws that promote safe workplaces.

Had DOLE done its job to enforce these laws, according to the group, the effects of the mall fire would have been minimized.

"Had there been a routine and objective workplace DOLE inspection of the mall, this deaths-causing fire could have been minimized to the barest damage to property. Due to DOLE officials' negligence, workers' lives (are) sacrificed, again this time at the cost of the 37 workers trapped to their deaths," said ALU-TUCP spokesman Alan Tanjusay in a statement.

The group's call comes as the DOLE, along with the Department of Justice, launches its own probe into the catastrophe.

Citing the Labor Code, Tanjusay pointed out that labor secretary has the power to inspect workplaces in the country at any time. This power is transferred to all DOLE regional officers and deputized to 550 labor inspectors nationwide.

"Department Order 131-B requires that all firms must be inspected using the labor law compliance assessment checklist once every two years," he added.

This is not the first time, Tanjusay pointed out, that the labor department supposedly failed to promote safe workspaces for Filipinos, citing the Valenzuela City rubber factory fire in 2015 which left 74 dead.

SSI to blame, too

The labor group also hit the management of the call center, American company Research Now SSI, which claimed that all the casualties were their employees. 

"If they could have complied with the labor inspection standards on the fire exits, sprinkler system, ventilation, lighting, noise, entry and egress specifications, and fire evacuation plan, possible harm could have been avoided," Tanjusay said,

"By wanting to save cost, their employees' lives were paid for the heavy price of saving cost," Tanjusay added.

The firm had since then promised that they would arrange counseling for its surviving employees, support funeral arrangements for the grieving families, and create a support fund for the victims' families.

The ALU-TUCP recommended that DOLE take a "hard approach" in conducting inspection of work firms the country. (READ: Deaths in PH factory fire show need for decent jobs)

"Inspection must now be strong. Meaning, violation of labor general and occupational safety and health standards at first instance must be treated with strong and harsh punishment," Tanjusay said.

"If we don’t do this now, many more workers will be made to sacrifice in the name of improving (the) margin of profit and cost-cutting," Tanjusay said. –

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.