Labor group demands justice for Kentex fire victims

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Recent reports said that the Valenzuela fire death toll has reached 72. Investigations are still ongoing.

(CNN Philippines) — Following the fire that gutted a footwear factory and killed several of its workers in Valenzuela City on Wednesday (May 13), authorities and concerned citizens questioned the company's compliance with labor laws.

But on Thursday (May 14), Malacañan said that Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) records confirmed the compliance of Kentex with labor law standards — particularly those that uphold workers' safety and fundamental rights.

In fact, the company in question has been meeting occupational safety requirements since September 2014.

"According to DOLE, Kentex is a unionized company, with an existing safety committee, and that its workers are entitled to government mandated social security and workmen’s compensation benefits," said Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz explained that the National Capital Region office of the DOLE issued the company a certificate of compliance on September 18, 2014 — proving that it had passed a joint assessment conducted by labor laws compliance officers under the new Labor Law Compliance System.

According to Baldoz, Kentex even has a safety committee with a union member representative that implements safety rules and regulations.

But labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said the government's efforts in upholding workers' safety and welfare were not enough.

In a statement, KMU slammed DOLE's Order No. 131-13 or "Rules on Labor Laws Compliance System" and said that it "further decreases government responsibility for the upholding of occupational health and safety standards."

KMU also demanded justice for those who died in the Valenzuela fire.

"Our hearts are crying out for justice for the workers of Kentex. Not a single worker should die in the workplace, even when a fire breaks out," KMU said.

The labor rights group also cited previous fires that took the lives of workers during the Aquino administration.

A fire killed 17 employees of Novo Jeans and Shorts in Butuan City in 2012, while another claimed the lives of eight workers of Asia Micro Tech in Pasay last year.

As of this posting, the Valenzuela fire death toll stood at 72.

Related: Valenzuela mourns as more bodies found in gutted factory

Assistance to survivors, victims' families

DOLE reassured the public that it would provide support for the fire survivors and for the families who lost breadwinners to the tragedy.

"The DOLE, through its Employment Compensation Commission, is ready to provide whatever assistance may be necessary, including employees' compensation program benefits, to the families of the victims as well as to the survivors of the fire," said Dimapilis-Baldoz.

Baldoz added that P20,000 in funeral and death pension benefits will be given to families of those who died in the fire, depending on the late worker's salary and Social Security System details.

Hospitalization and rehabilitation benefits and lump sum compensation will also be given to survivors, depending on the extent of their injuries.

According to the DOLE, Kentex Maunfacturing Corp. had a total of 54 workers — 33 of whom were members of the company's union. It also has a Bulacan-based subcontractor.

Meanwhile, officials of Valenzuela declared a citywide state of mourning on the afternoon of Thursday. Retrieval operations were also carried out by the Scene of the Crime Operatives but was suspended at 3:09 p.m.

The Palace and DOLE also extended condolences to the families of the fire victims. Investigations, on the other hand, are still ongoing.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario and Rex Remitio contributed to this report.