Kentex no-show at first DOLE meeting on deadly fire

FATALITIES. Authorities seal the remains of workers killed in a footwear factory in Valenzuela. Photo by PNP-PIO

FATALITIES. Authorities seal the remains of workers killed in a footwear factory in Valenzuela.

Photo by PNP-PIO

MANILA, Philippines – Footwear maker Kentex Manufacturing Corporation had no representative at the first day of a conference called by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) over the factory blaze that killed 72  workers in Valenzuela.

“Kentex Manufacturing Corporation did not attend the conference, despite receiving the official notice, as records of the DOLE NCR (National Capital Region) would show,” Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said on Tuesday, May 19, a day after the first DOLE conference.

Baldoz said that the failure of Kentex to attend the second day of the conference scheduled on Wednesday, May 20, would mean that "it has waived its right to be heard."

The second day of the conference will be held on the same day surviving workers and families of casualties of the blaze will meet with Valenzuela officials. 

Baldoz hopes that the Kentex will be represented at the Wednesday conference which will focus on occupational safety and health issues in the Kentex factory.

The manufacturing company is under fire for alleged labor violations and failure to comply with occupational health and safety standards.

Kentex subcontractor a 'dummy'

During the first conference on Monday, the DOLE corroborated its earlier claim that Kentex entered a deal with an unregistered subcontractor in hiring some of its workers, a violation of DOLE Department Order (DO) 18-A.

Citing the report of the DOLE regional office, Baldoz said that Kentex's subcontractor CJC Manpower Services was not only unregistered, it was also found to be "underpaying its workers." 

"Its workers deployed at Kentex Manufacturing Corporation were being paid only P202.50 per day, because it claimed that Kentex has been paying them separately P230 per day. However, no payroll can support the said claim," she added.

Among the violations DOLE cited are:

Family members of casualties attested that the factory owner tapped a "handler" to recruit factory workers without the necessary job contract and consequently without law-mandated workers' benefits.  

"In fact, it didn’t hire the 99 workers it admitted to have deployed to Kentex between April 2014 and the date of occurrence of the fire accident. Kentex just 'assigned' this to the sub-contractor," said Baldoz.

"In short, CJC is a dummy of Kentex," she added.

DEADLY BLAZE. Firefighters have difficulty putting out the blaze at Kentex manufacturing in Valenzuela City on May 13, 2015. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

DEADLY BLAZE. Firefighters have difficulty putting out the blaze at Kentex manufacturing in Valenzuela City on May 13, 2015.

Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Liability

Under DO 18-A, both the principal – in this case Kentex – and the subcontractor would be administratively liable for any labor law violations.

Baldoz had warned against fly-by-night subcontractors, explaining that subcontractors are required to have a P3-million paid-up capital under DO 18-A.

Following the DOLE conference on the Valenzuela fire, a compliance order will be issued to "detail all the money accountabilities of Kentex and its subcontractor," said Baldoz.

Depending on the results of government investigations, Baldoz said Kentex may face criminal liability, specifically reckless imprudence resulting to multiple injury and multiple homicide, violation of the Fire Code, violation of the National Building Code, arson, criminal liability under Article 288 of the Labor Code for possible violation of labor standards, occupational safety and health standards, and social legislations.

"The company could also face civil liability, specifically, actual damages (medical expenses, etc.); moral damages; and exemplary damages," she added. 

FATALITY. Filipino policemen carry a body in a body bag following a fire at a footwear factory in Valenzuela City, Philippines, 14 May 2015. Francis R Malasig/EPA

FATALITY. Filipino policemen carry a body in a body bag following a fire at a footwear factory in Valenzuela City, Philippines, 14 May 2015.

Francis R Malasig/EPA

'Conduct surprise inspections'

A fact-finding team composed of militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, and the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research alleged that Kentex mishandled and mislabelled chemicals.

The team also said that Kentex had no fire alarm systems and did not provide fire safety training for its workers.

Windows at the second floor of the factory were  barred by metal railings, trapping many as the fire raged. Witnesses said they saw workers extending their hands out these windows, in a desperate plea for help.

Initial reports said a welding activity in the first floor of the factory caused sparks to ignite nearby chemicals, which in turn quickly set on fire flammable materials in the factory. 

The incident is seen as a setback for the Philippine manufacturing industry and sheds light on the alleged lax implementation of occupational safety and health standards in local sweatshops.

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

On the heels of the massive fire, Baldoz and labor groups renewed their call to criminalize grave occupational safety and health (OSH) violations.

Slamming DOLE's alleged lax monitoring system, labor coalition Nagkaisa urged the department to conduct surprise inspections of factories and plants nationwide starting in Valenzuela, to check their compliance with labor laws. – Rappler.com