Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hanjin’s Subic Project: Case of Labor Abuse?

By Jane Han - Korea Times Staff Reporter

Hanjin Heavy Industries has helped significantly improve living conditions in the coastal Subic town in the Philippines over the past three years with bold investments in building its massive shipyard. But there is little co-celebration, as the development that claimed the lives of 19 local workers has left more of a bitter resentment in the community.

A total of 19 workers died in 17 accidents since 2006 at the Hanjin Heavy Industries' shipyard inside the Subic Bay Freeport zone, northwest of Manila, prompting a Senate to finally investigate the worksite last month to determine who was at fault.

Local labor groups and opposition political parties claim that the Korean firm is responsible for exploiting locals under dangerous working environments, but Hanjin officials have been trying to dodge the blame.

The country's labor department said that as of Feb. 20, some 30 of the 55 Hanjin subcontractors had been inspected and found to have violated 11 general labor standards and 10 occupational safety and health standards, according to local news reports.

The data also showed that Hanjin, which currently employs more than 16,000 locals, has underpaid its workers, cost-of-living allowances, overtime and holiday wages. Laborers were also not given proper safety gear such as gas masks or goggles while on duty.

Most of the deaths were caused by getting hit by falling objects, Philippine authorities said.

The workplace, which has churned out orders for 42 vessels, bulk carriers and oil tankers so far, is so life-threatening that one congressman labeled it as becoming a ``graveyard.''

But Hanjin officials brushed off the allegations, claiming that the accidents and deaths resulted from the workers' not having taken safety precautions.

``We did what we can do ensure the highest level of safety at the site,'' said a company spokesman, who declined to be named. ``We do admit our fault as an employer, but we shouldn't be blamed solely.''

He stressed that the Korean shipbuilder has fully compensated the families for the fatalities, regretting that the dispute is now getting politicized.

``The only thing we can do is continue to enforce safety training, but these efforts are meaningless if laborers behave irresponsibly at the site,'' said the official. ``We're professional and we understand and uphold the highest standards.''

Hanjin's Subic facility was built due to capacity constraints in Korea, and it is currently building its second shipyard in the southern Philippines, which is set for completion in 2017.

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