Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Solons find Hanjin still lacking in labor safety

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—South Korean shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industries Co., which operates a shipyard in this free port, may be complying substantially with labor-safety requirements, but its compliance program was still found wanting by visiting lawmakers.

Members of the House Committee on Labor and Employment inspected the Hanjin shipyard here last week to see for themselves how workers fared at the facility. At least 19 fatal accidents occurred in the shipyard in the last three years.

According to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) officials who joined the inspection, the committee members have expressed appreciation for the implementation of work-safety measures inside the Korean shipyard, but said they wanted to see more improvement in labor safety inside the facility.

The inspection team was headed by committee chairman LP Rep. Magtanggol Guinigundo of the Second District of Bulacan, who was joined by Rep. Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya, Party-list Rep. Joel Maglunsod of Anak Pawis, Lakas Rep. Mitos Magsaysay of the First District of Zambales, Party-list Reps. Rafael Mariano of Anak Pawis, Walden Bello of Akbayan and Edno Joson of Balane-Kampi, PMP-UNO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of the Second District of Cagayan de Oro and Lakas-CMD Rep. Monico Puentevella of Bacolod.

Guinigundo said the visit is connected with the ongoing committee hearing to determine whether the shipyard is a safe workplace, and to evaluate the working conditions of the workers there.

The lawmakers, who were met by Hanjin general manager Taek Kyun Yoo, were also accompanied by Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials, led by Central Luzon DOLE director Nathaniel Lacambra and director Brenda Villafuerte of the Bureau of Working Conditions, as well as SBMA officials, headed by senior deputy administrator Ramon Agregado.

SBMA records indicated that several accidents at the shipyard have claimed the lives of 19 Hanjin workers, including a Korean foreman early this year, since the firm started building ships here in 2007.

The incidents had led SBMA and other government agencies to suspend Hanjin operations several times, as well as to blacklist some subcontractors, pending a review of safety measures at the shipyard.

While briefing the lawmakers on the firm’s safety program, however, Yoo said Hanjin has been implementing health and safety measures that the House committee has recommended during previous hearings.

“We are happy to report to you that Hanjin Philippines is now 99.9-percent compliant in securing accreditation for all its health and safety personnel, and works toward the improvement of the working conditions of our workers,” Yoo said. He also reported that Hanjin’s emergency clinic in the shipyard has been expanded to a 20-bed capacity and is now equipped with modern medical apparatus.

The clinic also has four medical doctors now, as well as an ambulance and three fast sea ambulances, Yoo added.

Meanwhile, the firm’s board of directors has approved an annual budget of P311,356,292 for the improvement of work conditions in the facility, Yoo said. This amount will also cover the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, shoes, overall work suits, goggles and helmets, which are given free to workers, he added.

Despite the reported improvements in Hanjin’s labor safety, Bello commented that the implementation is still in the early stages.

“We are happy to hear and see the big improvement in the implementation of safety measures, but because they have just started doing this, there are lots more to do,” Bello added.

Magsaysay of Zambales, meanwhile, insisted to Hanjin officials that a hospital should be built in the area so that full medical services would be available to the workers.

Doctors and nurses should also be on duty at the facility 24 hours a day, Magsaysay said. Written by Henry Empeño / Business Mirror Correspondent

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