MANILA, Philippines – Even after President Benigno Aquino III has beefed up the labor department's Labor Laws Compliance System (LLCS) with additional manpower, the current compliance-officer-per-establishment ratio in Metro Manila remains below the ideal.
Metro Manila would need more Labor Laws Compliance Officers (LLCOs) under the LLCS, which government boasts as a revolutionary reform in workplace inspection and assessment, Rappler found.
There are only about 150 LLCOs in the region for over 37,344 establishments, said Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Metro Manila Director Alex Avila.
The current figure is a far cry from the International Labor Organization (ILO) recommendation of 120 establishments per inspector a year, Avila added.
A majority of establishments nationwide and in Metro Manila are micro businesses with assets totaling P3 million and below. These are not part of the establishments assigned to Metro Manila's LLCOs.
However, DOLE records show that 35% of the country's small, medium, and large businesses can be found in Metro Manila.
DOLE is keen on appointing additional directors in DOLE Metro Manila to assist Avila.
Effectiveness of the LLCS questioned
Labor groups expressed concern over the effectiveness of the LLCS following the May 13 fire that gutted the two-storey footwear factory of Kentex Manufacturing, which killed at least 72 people.
Labor coalition Nagkaisa slammed the system, saying it is tantamount to allowing employers to dictate the terms of the compliance assessment.
This, after it was found that Kentex was able to secure a certificate of compliance under the LLCS on September 18, 2014, despite glaring violations in general labor standards.
Later on, it was discovered that Kentex employed a dummy or a labor-only contractor in hiring 99 of its estimated 210 workers.
These workers listed under Kentex subcontractor CJC Manpower Services were underpaid and denied benefits mandated under the Labor Code. Health and social insurance premiums deducted from their salaries were also not remitted to PhilHealth and the Social Security System, respectively.
Aquino has said that the Valenzuela local government and Kentex management are among those being probed for criminal and administrative liability over the fire, but civil society groups have called for accountability on the part of DOLE as well.
Avila approved the compliance certificate of Kentex on the basis of a joint assessment conducted on March 17, 2014 by LLCO and Engineer Joseph Vedasto, who is now under investigation.
100% better than the old
Since its inception, the LLCS has expanded its checklist of laws and rules that need to be considered by an LLCO during an assessment of a workplace.
Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato told Rappler that at the time of the Kentex assessment, the compliance certificate of a business' subcontractor was not yet part of the checklist.
Chato admitted that the LLCS is a "work in progress" but insists it is a significant improvement from the more immediately punitive and enforcement-heavy Labor Standards Enforcement Framework (LSEF) that came before it.
"We are sure it's better than the old [system] – 100%," said Chato.
Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
Subject to LLCS are businesses engaged in hazardous work, employers of child employees, engaged in contracting and subcontracting arrangements, Philippine-registered ships or vessels engaged in domestic shipping, and those employing 10 or more employees.
Setback for PH manufacturing
The deadly Kentex fire is viewed as a setback for the Philippine manufacturing industry, an industry like many in developing and booming economies that attract foreign investors partly due to cheap labor.
Surviving relatives of workers engulfed by the fire told Rappler of horrid conditions inside the factory, including lack of masks amid the stench of paint and processed rubber, extreme heat, and long hours without the corresponding overtime pay, among others.
Fifty-year-old Marietta "Marie" Madiclom, a Kentex casualty, toiled in the footwear factory for 15 years without health insurance, social insurance, an assured minimum wage, and other law-mandated protection for workers, her husband said.
Labor rights advocates fear sweatshop-like conditions in factories and plants that line the area in the village of Ugong, the site of the Kentex factory.
At scheduled intervals, villagers in house clothes and in slippers congregate in front of tall gates to enter the walled buildings where they work as low-wage earners.
Labor groups have seized the aftermath of the unfortunate incident as an opportunity to push for pro-worker reforms, including stronger regulation, if not a complete ban, on contractual labor.
Kentex owes the illegally subcontracted workers at least P7.8 million in unpaid wages, excluding benefits such as overtime pay, night differential, 13th month pay, holiday pay, vacation and sick leave pay, refund of cash bond, and others.
The Kentex fire is considered the largest industrial accident in the Philippines in recent decades and the third largest fire in terms of casualties in the country's history.
Baldoz and labor groups had reiterated their call to criminalize grave violations of occupational safety and health standards by employers, as the 4-decades-old Labor Code merely imposes a fine for OSH offenses regardless of lives lost. – Rappler.com