House panel approves measure that amends work safety laws

Posted on August 07, 2015

A HOUSE of Representatives panel has approved a measure amending the country’s occupational safety law as a response to the recent slipper factory fire which left more than 70 workers dead.

The House committee on labor and employment approved on Wednesday a bill amending provisions of Executive Order 307 or the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Standards Law signed by former President Corazon C. Aquino in 1987, along with portions of the Labor Code.

“It is now required for each employer, contractor, and subcontractor, and any person who manages, controls or supervises the work being undertaken to provide their workers with a working area that is free from hazardous conditions cause or are likely to cause death, illness or physical harm,” the substitute bill reads.

With the proposed amendments, employers will be required to give complete job safety instructions and orientations to all workers, particularly to new hires, along with complete information on the hazards and health risks to which they will be exposed.

Personal protective equipment and machine guards must also be supplied by the factory owner.

In return, workers are also expected to use these protective gear daily, and cooperate with training and lectures given to familiarize themselves with their line of work and their surroundings.

“It is already approved by the committee yesterday (Wednesday), but subject to style,” committee chairman and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said in a text message. “We will finalize the text of some provisions.”

Though he could not say a timetable for the bill’s passage, the lawmaker said the committee will move to fast-track the measure’s approval.

The approved substitute bill consolidates several proposals filed by lawmakers, the passage of which was hastened following the May 13 Kentex fire tragedy which trapped workers inside the so-called sweatshop.

At least 72 people were killed in the incident.

During the Wednesday hearing, the committee could not come up with the penalty range to be imposed for violations of the OSH rules as representatives from the groups of employers, workers and the government could not agree on a set of rates.

Among the penalties being pushed are a P100,000 fine on the part of the employer for each day that a violation is not corrected. Additional penalties of P150,000 per injured worker or P250,000 per death is also being mulled, along with a maximum of 12 years imprisonment.

But members of the employers’ sector asked to defer the penalty setting.

Mr. Nograles said that the penalties to be imposed on errant companies, among other details, would still be ironed out by the panel before it can be forwarded to the plenary for further discussion and approval.

The higher set of fines is expected to improve compliance to workplace safety rules, as the current laws can only penalize errant firms by pausing its operations until corrections are made.

Labor groups backed the move, saying it is a step towards better worker treatment.

“The substitute bill’s passage is the result of the public’s outrage over the death of more than 72 workers in the Kentex fire tragedy, the worst factory fire in Philippine history, and over the increasing number of workplace deaths in the country,” the Kilusang Mayo Uno said in a statement.

“We vow to continue fighting for justice over workplace deaths, for safer workplaces for Filipino workers, and for the junking of the policy of contractualization.”

The bill would have to be approved at the House plenary and by the Senate before it can be turned over to Malacañang for signing into law. -- Melissa Luz T. Lopez