Progressive youth groups staged protest action at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) main office in Intramuros, Manila on February 3 to call for justice for the victims of the House Technology Industries (HTI) factory fire in the Cavite Export Processing Zone, saying that dismal working conditions and lenient government regulations have led to the tragedy.
In line with the national day of action for national minimum wage and against contractualization, they marched to Mendiola together with worker groups led by Kilusang Mayo Uno to register their demands.
“The HTI management, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) should be held accountable for their blatant disregard of workers’ welfare and safety that led to the injury and possible death of hundreds of their workers,” said Jose Mari Callueng, CEGP national president.
As of press time, no worker is confirmed dead according to authorities, but the figure could rise as officials have yet to provide full accounting of the hundreds of workers reportedly trapped inside HTI during the fire. Meanwhile, approximately 100 workers are being treated in various hospitals within the vicinity.
Callueng has called for an immediate and thorough investigation on HTI management’s occupational safety and health policies, noting that this is not the first time a fire broke out inside the company’s confines. He also added that the tragedy is reminiscent of the 2015 Kentex factory fire that killed 74 workers after being trapped inside the factory.
“Working on the framework of extracting colossal profits, companies such as Kentex and HTI deliberately neglect occupational safety and health standards as these are added costs to production. As such, workers, while being subjected to flexible working schemes and below minimum wages, are exposed to workplace hazards without any protective equipment and other safety nets,” he said.
Neoliberal attacks on workers
Moreover, Callueng underscored that this tragedy highlights the intolerable condition of Filipino workers who suffer gross exploitation under the neoliberal economic policies which results in the further degradation of wages through rampant contractualization, regionalization and the curtailing of workers’ rights to organize and unionize.
“The Guild is abhorred that the primary drivers of our economy are left to such sorry state. We unite in the call challenging the Duterte administration to stand for justice for the victims of the HTI fire and every Filipino worker who continuously suffer under the exploitative system. President Rodrigo Duterte should be reminded that it is his duty to serve the Filipino people, and he should start so by condemning anti-worker policies promoted by his economic managers,” he added.
Callueng particularly slammed the Duterte administration’s failure to genuinely end contractualization, one of the president’s election campaign promises, as it instituted DOLE Department Order (DO) 168 which ties the employee-employer relationship between the worker and the manpower agency, not the company a worker is working for.
“The government prods DO 168 as a ‘win-win solution,’ but it only legitimizes contractualization. Under the DO, workers are considered regular employees under manpower agencies, effectively absolving companies from their accountability to provide regular work and decent wages,” Callueng explained.
“For as long as neoliberal economic policies are in dominance, it is certain that workers’ rights and welfare will be incessantly attacked. The Filipino people, therefore, are duty-bound to unite and fight against this oppressive system,” he ended.###