Workers in Peril: Looking at Safety in Valenzuela Factories
THE KENTEX factory fire which claimed 74 lives in 2015 exposed harsh working conditions in factories in Valenzuela City. With the dismissal of charges filed against city officials, justice remains elusive for the victims and their kin. Manufacturing establishments continue to ignore health and safety standards in that city today.
Contractualization and workers’ rights often go unexplained, much less reported, in mainstream media. BusinessMirror therefore deserves to be commended for its report on Valenzuela factories’ noncompliance with safety measures.
In the article “2 years after Kentex tragedy, Valenzuela factory workers still risking life and limb for below-minimum wages,” the paper quoted factory workers as saying that their working conditions are no different from the situation in Kentex. They work up to 12 hours daily six days a week and are paid only PHP200 to PHP300, way below the minimum wage, and enjoy no government-mandated benefits. Some of them said they work amid chemicals and heavy machinery without protective gear and equipment.
According to one interviewee, the fire exit in the factory where he works is always locked and is too small to accommodate more than one person at a time. Another said that rather than having her burned hand amputated, she opted for an expensive and risky skin-grafting procedure which would make it easier for her to find a decent job.
The BusinessMirror report pointed out that the workers narrated their stories during the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on March 24. They were accompanied by representatives of Defend Job Philippines, a nongovernmental labor group. One of them, Nikkie Abilar, said “factory workers in the country are made to believe that the slave-like condition they experience is just normal.”
Another labor group, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, gathered data for a study from 120 respondent-workers in Valenzuela factories. The study revealed that 85 percent of the respondents were contractual workers, while 40 percent worked seven days a week.
With its story on working conditions in Valenzuela’s factories, BusinessMirror gave a face to those who are directly affected by perennial labor issues. Such stories should alert the Duterte administration to ensure workers’ safety and to deliver on its promise to end contractualization.