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NCCC mall fire highlights inaction on workplace-safety legislation

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burning mall
A firefighter standing in front of a burning shopping mall in Davao City on Dec. 23. -- AFP

SEN. Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva called for government agencies like the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to “seriously implement” laws on occupational safety and health (OSH).

Mr. Villanueva, who chairs the committee on labor, employment, and human resources development in the Senate, expressed disappointment over failure of DoLE to implement the law which provides for the safety of workers.

“We have a law that is currently in place to implement standards on workers’ safety in the workplace. It is very disappointing for agencies like DoLE to fail to implement this law,” Mr. Villanueva said.

He said this amid efforts finalize Senate Bill (SB) 1317 or the Occupational Safety and Health bill after a mall was gutted by fire in Davao City, leaving 38 people dead.

“It’s disappointing that the Senate continues to sit on the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) bill, which was approved and transmitted by the House in December 2016, even if it’s been certified as one of the priority bills,” Gabriela Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said in a statement.

The House of Representatives earlier passed a similar bill on third reading. The OSH compliance was listed as a priority measure under the Common Legislative Agenda for the 17th Congress.

“Right now, the amendment to impose higher penalties for non-compliance with the law has been approved by the committee and is up for interpellation. We are almost done debating and we expect the final version to be done by first quarter next year,” Mr. Villanueva said.

The OSH bill will compel employers to implement a set of standards to ensure safety in workplaces and will penalize non-compliance. The explanatory note of the two proposed laws noted that the Labor Code, as amended, only authorizes work stoppages in cases of imminent danger in workplaces.

Ms. Brosas said that Makabayan bloc, a group of opposition lawmakers of which she is a member, will file a resolution to investigate the fire.

“We will urge the House labor committee to hold an inquiry on the NCCC mall fire and draw lines of accountability. Someone must be held accountable,” Ms. Brosas said. — Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz