Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Groups hit DOLE decision on Hanjin

OLONGAPO CITY – Local officials assailed the Department of Labor and Employment's findings that cleared the construction arm of a Korean shipbuilding company of any liability on the death of a worker at the firm's shipyard on June 20.

DOLE has declared the death of Mario Atrero and the injury to four of his co-workers as a case of "force majeure."

Steel forms hit Atrero and four others as they sought shelter from the strong rain at the work site of the Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Philippines Inc. in Subic, Zambales.

The DOLE report said "initial inspection showed that there were no other factors that caused the collapse of the said forms other than strong winds."

But Councilor John Carlos de los Reyes said the DOLE report, although accurate, does not go far enough.

"Negligence destroys force majeure as a defense," he said.

"If there was a strong storm and safety demands that work be temporarily stopped, then Hanjin must stop work. If a worker was made to work in a shipyard at the height of the storm, could you invoke force majeure?" he asked.

Ramon Lacbain II, head of Task Force Hanjin, said the DOLE "should not blame Mother Nature for these accidents."

The Zambales government formed the task force to monitor the conditions of workers at the shipyard.

"They should conduct a thorough investigation of the worker's death and all other accidents happening [at the Hanjin shipyard]," he said.

De los Reyes said the government's policy must be that "the dignity and safety of Filipino workers take precedence over [Hanjin's] billions of dollars of investment."

DOLE's findings contradicted a report from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority on the incident.

The report suggested that Atrero's death could be attributed to the failure of the company to provide "structurally safe temporary welfare facility (rest area, shed, etc.)."

The report, which listed the potential causes for liability of Hanjin, also said the Hanjin employees "should have been informed of the hazards and should have been restricted in that area."

The Inquirer learned that there were no barricades and safety signs in the area where Atrero and his four companions sought shelter during the rain.
In the report, the SBMA urged Hanjin to instruct its site safety officer to "be strict in the implementation of the safety rules and regulations."

Pyeong Jong Yu, HHIC-Philippines general manager, on Sunday said Hanjin has formed a safety committee "composed of higher [company] officials in Korea" to "strictly monitor" the implementation of DOLE's recommendations.

Asked whether the cease-and-desist order issued by the SBMA on Hanjin Construction Corp. Ltd., Hanjin's construction arm, was already lifted, he said: "That is only effective for seven days. There's no official [word] from SBMA. We don't need to confirm. It's only for seven days."
Pyeong said "construction activities are now ongoing."

A copy of the CDO issued by SBMA said it was valid for seven days. The CDO was sent by fax to HCCL on June 20 and served to the company on June 21.

DOLE had advised both the HCCL and HHIC-Philippines to adopt more preventive measures at the construction and shipbuilding sites.

These included installing off-limits signs on restricted areas, encouraging workers to discuss safety situations or for them to check their safety equipment before going to work. By Robert Gonzaga - Inquirer Central Luzon Desk

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