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Work safety bill calls for stiff penalties against violators

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The newly ratified Occupational Safety and Health Standards bill will motivate employers to look after the safety of their workers. -- PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

THE newly ratified Occupational Safety and Health Standards bill fines employers up to P100,000 per day for noncompliance with safety standards, putting teeth into work safety regulations which previously lacked significant penalties, labor groups said.

“We have sufficient provisions for safety and health standards but the problem is in the implementation,” Renato B. Magtubo, spokesperson for the Nagkaisa coalition of labor groups, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview, noting that the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) had earlier failed to enforce safety rules due to the lack of sanctions.

Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), meanwhile, said the bill will motivate employers to look after the safety of their workers.

ALU-TUCP Spokesperson Alan A. Tanjusay added that the fines will begin from the date the employer was notified of the violation by DoLE, though his organization backs reckoning the fines from the time workers file complaints.

“What happens if the labor inspectors are delayed in examining the workplace? Employers will not be penalized,” he said. “The number of days the workplace is deemed noncompliant should be counted from the time workers report it.”

He said at present there are no fines imposed for violating workplace safety standards and the most serious sanction currently available is a work stoppage order from DoLE.

Labor Undersecretary Joel B. Maglunsod said the department needs to come to a determination that a violation exists, though its goal is to achieve a high general standard for workplace safety.

“There are penalties under current rules, but they are administrative in nature,” he acknowledged, adding that DoLE is determined to bring about improved compliance by employers.

This time, he said, the department may consider amendments the law to provide for criminal liability in the event of continued violations.

“We can propose to amend the law to include criminal liability for violators,” Mr. Maglunsod said.

Mr. Magtubo said he also supports a provision in the bill authorizing labor inspectors to visit workplaces at any time.

“The Labor secretary was given power to inspect working conditions day or night,” Mr. Magtubo said. “The bill has fixed the weaknesses in the current law, which is why we expect companies to be obliged to comply.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan