Church Calls on Pnoy: Safe, Humane Working Conditions at Hanjin

PRESS RELEASE

June 14, 2011

Church Calls on Pnoy: Safe, Humane Working Conditions at Hanjin

MANILA, Philippines – Today, the National Secretariat for Social Action- Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-NASSA) appealed to the Aquino administration in behalf of the twenty one thousand strong workers of Subic-based Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines, Inc. (HHICPI) to speedily resolve long-standing issues on work safety plaguing the giant shipping company.

            Earlier, CBCP –NASSA already called the attention of Hanjin management on the lack of compliance to guidelines for occupational health and safety which are standards recognized here and abroad to ensure no loss of life or limb inside the yard.

According to SAMAHAN (Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Hanjin Shipyard), they recorded last March 8- 15 six fatalities out of five accidents. By April 8- 15, there were four accidents where two workers died. There are also non-fatal accidents which range from minor skin wounds, swollen and irritated eyes from over-exposure to welding fumes and metal fillings and a loss of a limb or two. The long queue at the small clinic everyday is a testimony to how dangerous shipyard work is.

There were also cases of physical abuse and ill-treatment recorded last May 10 committed by Korean superior Mr. Yoon Ki Cheol who hurled an industrial scissor and hit the right leg of Jenepher Abejo, a Filipino welder. Another incident has Mr. Woo Yeon Lee strangling Christopher Alejandro, another Filipino worker last May 28.

SAMAHAN also appealed to President Noynoy Aquino to make a move in behalf of the workers of the yard who go to work fearful for their lives and safety.

“This trend is reminiscent of the 2008 series of deaths, accidents and abuse that has made a graveyard out of the shipyard,” Joey Gonzales, Secretary of SAMAHAN stated.

Ironically, the incidents happen amid the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) effort to conduct cultural orientation training and monitoring duties of its TASK FORCE HANJIN.

The Roman Catholic Church through the NASSA CBCP was also concerned at the apparent compromise of workers’ safety as well as physical abuses by Korean company managers. Quoting from a social encyclical by the late Pope John Paul II, the Church emphasizes that “The human dignity of the worker must be recognized in labor; it cannot be bought and sold like a piece of merchandise.”

Attorney Ernesto Arellano of the National Union of Building and Wood Workers (NUBCW-BWI) explained that during the peak of the deaths in 2008, the workers struggled to organize themselves into a union which the management contested for almost four years. It resulted in eighteen cases of illegal dismissal, affecting forty workers which largely remain unresolved.

“Sans the union, the workers association (SAMAHAN) proceeded to demand what is only stated in the Labor Code such as implementation of Occupational Health and Safety Standards like providing adequate and quality personal protective equipment or PPE and building a 300-bed hospital facility instead of a mere clinic; taking steps to prevent maltreatment; provide healthy and clean food and the reinstatement of the 40 illegally dismissed workers. They even wrote management more than once to call attention to their plight,” added Arellano.

“Our demands went unheard and management retaliated by suspending five of our leaders.” Gonzales lamented.

Noise Barrage

SAMAHAN led a noise barrage last June 10 for five minutes where a worker was dragged by Hanjin security to a waiting patrol car but was saved by fellow workers. The noise barrage the next day lasted for almost an hour and elements of the Special Action force were sent to the yard but no violence erupted.

For its part, a political labor and trade union center Manggagawa para sa Kalayaan ng Bayan (MAKABAYAN), lambasted the Labor Department for their inaction on the Hanjin issue. “Clearly, Hanjin is remiss in implementing both international and national laws on basic labor rights it should be made accountable for the deaths of its workers.”

Gonzales ends, “If he is really keen in leading the country to a straight path, then he must start by looking after the welfare of the workers of the Hanjin shipyard, as well as the Filipino workers as a whole.” ###

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