THERE is still no official count of those who perished in the blaze last Wednesday at the House Technology Industries (HTI) in Rosario, Cavite at the time of this writing but estimates are grim.

The factory which produces insulated material for housing projects abroad is located in an export-processing zone and reportedly employs an estimated 6,000 workers at any given time within its huge compound. It supposedly is the biggest single employer for the province of Cavite.

Reports indicate an explosion at around six p.m. followed by a raging fire at the second floor of the large facility that employees describe as bigger and cavernous than the Araneta Coliseum. Workers who managed to escape the fire shared that it only took moments before soaring flames and thick black smoke engulfed the entire structure, trapping many in the upper floors.

The fire continues to burn as of this writing and the authorities have been mum about the dead. However, reports from various sources estimate those who were trapped and remain missing to be in the hundreds. Close to a hundred injured have been brought to nearby hospitals, a significant number of which incurred serious burns and injuries.

In the meantime, the Singaporean company and local government officials, the persons in authority neither confirm nor deny the number and identities of those who died as the flames continue to smolder a day after the incident.

After the deadly fire at the slipper factory Kentex last May 13, 2015 that killed 74 workers, this recent tragedy in an export-processing zone in Rosario, Cavite is poised to surpass that tragic incident’s grim body count. In social media, there are already frantic cries about missing loved ones who still have not returned home more than 12 hours since the blaze. Their worst fear is that their relatives went up in flames together with the factory they worked in.

Tragedies like these reveal the inhumane and perilous conditions that contractual workers face not just in export processing zones but basically in all factories in the country. Bereft of any bargaining power before management, the workers are forced to accept inhumane and perilous working conditions because the contractualization of labor has been allowed by government in order to attract investments like that of HTI.

The banning of unions which is the consequence of labor contractualization, essentially creates the conditions for employment abuse and the violation of occupational health and safety standards since management is given that much latitude to keep their operations streamlined and profitable.

It is a dictum that plays itself to be morbidly true time and time again. Whether it be in the sweatshops of Dhaka, Bangladesh, where 1,100 workers were killed under the rubble of their factories which collapsed last April 24, 2013; or the Kentex factory fire that killed 72 in Valenzuela, Philippines last 2015; or the Triangle Factory fire in New York in 1911 that saw scores of men and women leap into their deaths as the fire engulfed their factory in the eighth to tenth floors; and now the HTI fire in Rosario, Cavite, the human beings which create profit for these companies with their cheap labor are treated just like any other production input, disposable and replaceable. Their security of tenure in contractual jobs, their safety, and well-being, all take the backseat in favor of the larger bottom line for the firm’s operations.

There is a poignant video circulating online taken by a worker who barely made it outside the HTI fire. First, there was just white smoke, his camera focused on the building as he fled for safety together with the others. Moments later, a thick black smoke filled the sky transforming the sky at dusk. Angry flames engulfed the entire structure immediately followed as wails of panic and distress were heard from the video when workers who escaped the fire realized that many of their fellow employees remain trap in the burning building. It was shuddering and grim sight to see the leaping flames and the thick smoke quickly reduce the factory building to rubble, together with it, the hundreds of men and women inside.

While watching the flames and smoke that surely was engulfing his fellow workers, and instead of being led to a righteous rage over the inhumanity of their condition as a class, this worker sadly laments the loss of his job as his factory goes up in smoke.

No one should die just to earn a dignified and decent means of living. This belief in the basic right of workers upon whose labor the entire economy depends is supposedly enshrined in our laws and practices. But the mad drive for profit has pushed their rights and well being aside by a complicit government, a condition that the workers have dangerously gotten used to.