Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

DoLE probes Hanjin on safety after 14 workers’ deaths

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque has ordered the investigation of Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction-Philippines Inc. following the death of 14 workers at the firm’s Subic Bay Freeport yard.

"The death of the workers is alarming," Roque said, adding that the probe will also determine if the company has extended proper assistance, such as burial and other benefits, to the families of the victims.

The labor chief warned that if safety standards have been violated, his office will shut down the company's operations.

However, he acknowledged Hanjin may not be liable if investigations show it was the workers who failed to use safety gadgets issued them by the firm.

"Initial reports said the workers weren't wearing personal protective equipment" as required by the department's Occupational and Health Safety Center, the labor department said.

Separately, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) called on the two chambers of Congress to probe the "unusually high incidence of accidental deaths" of workers in the $1.6-billion shipyard project in Subic.

According to former senator Ernesto Herrera, TUCP general secretary, the latest fatality, 19-year-old Arvy Mahinay, fell from the roof on August 6 while retrieving his helmet, which was blown off by the wind.

Herrera said the high rate of fatal job accidents in Hanjin is alarming considering that once it becomes fully operational, the shipyard will employ some 20,000 workers.

He noted that Hanjin is also investing a bigger amount -- $2 billion -- to install a second
shipbuilding and repair facility at the Phividec Industrial Estate in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, to employ some 30,000 people once fully operational.

"It could be that Hanjin still has inadequate work safety standards, despite previous tragedies, or the firm has simply engaged too many young and untrained laborers, or both. It could also be that workers there are under too much pressure to get the job done, thus increasing the risk of accidents," he said.

Hanjin's Subic project recently became the subject of a Senate inquiry, following reports that two high-rise condominiums being put up there encroach upon a protected rainforest.

Aside from Hanjin, Roque also ordered the regional labor offices "intensify the inspection of establishments" concerning safety, as two other workers died last week while working to extract septic waste in a hotel in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.

At the same time, the labor secretary asked both labor and management to conform with safety standards to prevent hazards and accidents that may lead to injuries, disabilities, diseases, and death. By Veronica Uy - INQUIRER.net

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