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Zambales execs want Keppel cooperation in probe

/ 08:40 PM October 09, 2011

SUBIC, Zambales—A top official in Zambales urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to study the latest shipyard accident here that killed six workers, saying fatal accidents in the local shipbuilding industry have become “far too common.”

Vice Governor Ramon Lacbain II said DoLE should find out “any lapses in safety that caused the deaths and injuries of the workers.”

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“They have to make sure that this never happens again. DoLE… needs to compel these companies to observe laws regarding safety in the workplace,” he said.

Lacbain, who is also chairman of Task Force Hanjin, which monitors workplace safety in the Korean-owned Hanjin shipyard here, said the Zambales government is relying on the Keppel Subic Shipyard (KSS) to cooperate with government agencies conducting the probe.

On Friday morning, a group of workers at KSS were repairing the MV Tombarra, a 22,650-ton container ship, when a steel platform collapsed, initially killing five workers. The sixth fatality, Ronaldo Bagay (not Ronal Bagay as earlier identified by the Subic police), died while undergoing treatment on Friday night.

Seven others were hurt and taken to the Our Lady of Lourdes International Hospital in Olongapo City.

KSS officials promised to cooperate with DoLE and other agencies conducting the investigation.

In a statement on Sunday, Mok Kim Whang, KSS president, said the company was “deeply saddened” with the death of Bagay. Whang said the six fatalities were project employees of Garcia & Rocafor General Services, a KSS subcontractor.

“Currently, three of [the six injured workers still in the hospital] are in stable condition and the other three are still warded in the intensive care unit. The yard has suspended work on this vessel pending further investigation,” he said.

Whang said a task force, composed of senior management officials from KSS and from its headquarters in Singapore, has been formed to look into further enhancing safety at the shipyard. “The investigation is ongoing and we continue to cooperate fully with authorities in the Philippines,” he said.

Lacbain said KSS should not only pay for the hospital and burial expenses of the injured and dead workers, “but continue to support [their] families until they can recover from this accident.”

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“These workers are breadwinners of their families and there are a lot of people who depend on them. It may take a few years for them to fully recover,” he said.

In Manila, a labor think tank and a workplace safety group called on the government to strictly monitor occupational safety standards and review its authority in the country’s special economic zones.

The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler) called on Congress to conduct a “critical review” of Republic Act No. 7916, or the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995, which gives foreign firms virtually total control over economic zones aside from according them tax holidays and other perks.

Eiler executive director Anna Leah Ecresa said both the Senate and House of Representatives must also review the actual mandate of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority and DoLE over Keppel shipyard and all other companies located in ecozones.

She added that companies that grossly violate labor rights and occupational health and safety rules must be immediately shut down at the least, if not kicked out of the economic zones.

“The accident reveals that economic zones have ironically become exclusive territories of foreign firms, which authorities cannot enter even when Filipinos working inside are crushed to death. Alarmingly, dead bodies could be piling inside shipyards without the President and labor officials knowing,” Ecresa said.

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (Iohsad) called on DoLE to stop all work at the shipyard pending a comprehensive inspection of Keppel’s safety practices.

“Rule 1012.02, or Abatement of Imminent Danger of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards, allows DoLE to shut down the operation, require from the company specific measures to correct dangerous practices and/or maintain a stoppage of operation if the recommendations are not adhered to by the erring company,” Iohsad executive director Noel Colina said in a separate statement.—Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Jerome Aning in Manila

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TAGS: industrial accident, Labor, Philippines, Regions, Shipbuilding, Zambales
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