AMID continued allegations of whitewashing, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) has vowed to find the truth on whether fire-struck House Technology Industries (HTI) was compliant to occupational safety and health (OSH) and labor standards.

In an interview, Dole Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod assured that they will adequately determine possible violations committed by HTI management after a fire gutted its facility in Cavite last February 1.

“Ang investigation natin ay kasama na rin yung kabuuan in the sense na hindi lang natin ililimit sa inspection ng occupational health and safety standards. Kasama na rin yung general labor standards,” said Maglunsod, who heads the newly-formed Dole investigating panel.

And so far, the labor official disclosed that they have already found probable violations committed by HTI.

Among them, he said, is having 6,000 to 7,000 workers being hired through contracting and subcontracting work arrangements.

Maglunsod also pointed at the factory’s structural problems that make it a hazardous workplace.

Earlier, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III signed Administrative Order 32, which constituted a Dole Investigation Team that aims to determine the compliance of HTI on OSH and general labor standards.

But while Dole is still conducting its probe, the Center for Trade and Human Rights (CTUHR) said they have already concluded their own fact-finding mission on the tragedy.

According to the labor rights advocacy group, their investigation on the tragedy showed that there are efforts to suppress the complete truth behind the blaze that gutted the three-storey building located inside the Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZ).

“The initial findings...suggests that there is an apparent attempt on the part of the HTI management, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), the Cavite LGU (local government unit) and, to certain extent, [Dole] Regional Office to hide the actual number of casualties and the possible [OSH] and labor standards violations,” said the report.

“The government agencies, particularly the Cavite LGU, Dole, PEZA and their authorized representatives, have not granted access to official records nor the site of the tragedy, increasing probability of hiding the truth,” it furthered.

The full report of the CTUHR’s National Fact-Finding Mission (NFFM) showed that there were violations on occupational health and safety standards due to having insufficient number of fire exits and passageways, lack of automatic sprinklers and smoke detectors, as well as fire enclosures.

“In an environment with light, inflammable materials and combustible chemicals, why is it that there were no sprinklers and other fire safety measures to contain the fire? Why is a building considered compliant, when it does not follow the mandated numbers of fire exits? Has the Bureau of Fire Protection factored this in their investigation in dismissing the workers' claims that no one was trapped?” questioned the report.

It also noted that while HTI pays its workers the minimum wage of P356 per day, the biggest company inside CEPZ violates the mandatory overtime pays.

“Workers interviewed by NFFM contend that they are paid P50 per hour, which is less than the mandated 25 percent OT premium per hour on regular day,” said the NFFM.

The report also claimed that HTI engages in Labor Only Contracting (LOC) practices by employing the services of six manpower agencies to supply its workers despite the prohibition of the Dole.

“HTI has a peculiar way of hiring and maintaining workers. It directly hires workers, as casuals, for about three months and hires through agencies. When casuals directly-hired by HTI completes the three-month period and passed the performance evaluation, s/he will be handed over to one of the agencies for about two years, again, if performance is good,” noted the report.

Finally, the NFFM report stated that HTI violates the workers' right to organize labor unions by restraining or limiting employees in lawful exercise of their rights to organization.

“The HTI factory is non-unionized and workers revealed that, in the orientation, hired applicants are dissuaded from organizing or joining unions. HTI and its service providers practice anti-union discrimination,” said the NFFM.

To note, HTI has an estimated 13,000 workers, with about half of them currently present when the fire broke out.

CTUHR is a group composed of labor rights advocates and trade unionists that is committed to "confront state and capitalist’s human rights violations" committed against workers. (HDT/SunStar Philippines)