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Don’t endanger workers in areas hit by ashfall

Labor groups, lawmakers urge private firms to put employees’ safety first
/ 04:06 AM January 14, 2020

DRIVING HAZARD Ashfall from the eruption of Taal Volcano blankets vehicles parked on UN Avenue in Manila on Monday, turning a windshield into what looks like a relief map. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA, Philippines — Labor groups and lawmakers on Monday called on private employers to think of their workers’ safety as ashfall covered several towns and cities in Metro Manila and Southern Luzon following the eruption of Taal Volcano on Sunday.

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said that business owners who forced their workers to report for duty despite hazardous conditions could be fined P100,000 per day.

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“Their employees have the right to refuse to work if they think it’s unsafe to go to work,” he said.

He also advised employers to relax their tardiness rule and give their staff “time and space to be with their families, especially those who are displaced.”

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“It’s a big help to them to show that you are considerate especially in times of calamity, and even more so if you can provide them cash assistance, food packs and drinking water,” Tanjusay said.

Hazardous eruption possible

Taal Volcano remained under alert level 4 on Monday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said. This meant that a hazardous eruption was possible within hours to days.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said private companies should have followed suit and suspended operations after Malacañang called off classes and work in government offices.

According to her, ashfall was a “great health risk” that could lead to a host of problems.

“Those who have prolonged exposure to it could get respiratory problems and skin irritation,”Hontiveros said. “Please do not require employees to get to work. Safety first.”

Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said employers and company-designated safety officers should determine on their own whether it was safe to make their workers report to offices.

He said the law had empowered safety officers to issue a work-stoppage order without fear of threat or reprisal from business owners.

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But he also called on the Department of Labor and Employment to issue an advisory to guide private firms, especially those in Southern Luzon, on whether to call off work or not.

A party list group has criticized businesses, including business process outsourcing (BPO) companies that maintained operations near the volcano, for exposing their workers to ashfall, among other hazards.

“We have received information that [workers in] most BPO firms, including IBM Nuvali and Conduit, which are located in Santa Rosa, Laguna and about 20 kilometers from Taal, were still required to report to work despite the high alert,” Gabriela said in a statement.

It reminded all businesses, including BPOs, that a volcanic eruption was clearly an occupational safety and health issue.—With reports from Krixia Subingsubing and DJ Yap

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TAGS: ashfall, Taal Volcano eruption, TUCP, workers' safety
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