Kentex willing to pay for DNA testing of dead workers

MANILA, Philippines – Embattled local slipper maker Kentex Manufacturing will pay for expenses incurred by state investigators in the identification of remains burned to death in a May 13 factory blaze.

Lawyer Renato Paraiso on Wednesday, May 20, said the company would pool more funds to be able to pay for the DNA tests by government and extend extra compensation to the fire victims.

Paraiso represents two of the company owners. He was present during the second day of the DOLE mandatory conference at the DOLE Metro Manila office. 

Paraiso cited Kentex's "total business loss," which constrained the company after the fire.

"Talagang gipit (Really short of funds)," he remarked in an interview with reporters.

He said his clients virtually "had no funds to compensate these employees."

A two-story Kentex factory in Valenzuela City caught fire on May 13, claiming at least 72 lives trapped inside.

State investigators are still in the process of establishing the identities of most of the remains, with only 3 victims identified so far.

The deadly factory fire is seen as a setback for the Philippine manufacturing industry and sheds light on local sweatshops' non-compliance with occupational health and safety standards.

Other factories and plants line the area in the village of Ugong, where the Kentex factory is located. Villagers in house clothes and slippers would congregate in front of tall gates to enter sweatshops where they work as low-wage earners.

This early into the probe, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has established that Kentex had flouted labor rules by using a dummy as its subcontractor.

Around 99 workers were deployed by subcontractor CJC Manpower Services to Kentex, based on documents the DOLE accessed in its regional office.

Yet, during the first day of its mandatory conference on the deadly fire, the DOLE established that the workers were not even directly hired by CJC but were merely assigned to CJC by Kentex.

Labor rules prohibit such a practice of hiring workers for a company using a non-capitalized entity. Without capital, such an entity is merely an agent.

Paraiso explained Kentex's lack of representation during the first day, saying they were belatedly notified about the conference.

Immediate assistance

To his client's defense, Paraiso said Kentex extended "immediate assistance" to the fire victims' families and their surviving workers.

Around 210 workers were employed by Kentex, including those who survived the fire for being part of the alternate shift.

Paraiso said all these workers were already provided their backpay for the last 10 days at a flat rate of P8,000.

The families left behind and workers were provided a voucher that showed the amount of their pay, he said.

Another P5,000 was likewise given to families of the fire victims, he added.

As to the surviving workers who are now left jobless given the fire, he said his clients "are open to hiring these employees in a preferential basis" if the company ever returns to its regular operations.

Violations of labor standards

Paraiso denied allegations of underpayment, as well as non-remittance of health insurance and social security premiums of the workers.

In a House committee hearing on Wednesday, representatives from both PhilHealth and Social Security System attested that Kentex was regularly forwarding remittances for its workers.

The DOLE, however, found that workers Kentex hired through CJC were denied law-mandated workers' benefits.

Aside from violation of general labor standards, the manufacturing company is also under fire for alleged failure to comply with occupational health and safety standards.

Paraiso denied this, saying Kentex would not have been given a DOLE certificate of compliance last September 2014 if it committed violations.

Members of the House committee on labor and employment grilled DOLE representatives on Wednesday over the issuance of the COC.

Labor groups insist DOLE must be held liable for what they regarded as lax monitoring of compliance with labor laws.

Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato, however, said due process must be applied in determining liability of any DOLE officer.

The compliance officer who was involved in the joint assessment of Kentex in 2014 is under investigation. – Rappler.com