Continuation of formal GRP-NDFP peacetalks, more compelling in light of HTI tragedy

“With the incident which affected workers in the House Technology Industries (HTI), it is even more timely, compelling and urgent to discuss the rights and welfare of workers in the formal peacetalks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The crafting of a comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms is an important step in addressing problems on livelihood, employment and security of tenure, and better workplace conditions,” said Maria Sol Taule, Karapatan services unit head and co-head of the independent factfinding mission on the status of the workers affected in the HTI factory fire in Cavite. 

Taule said that “in a system that promotes and tolerates contractualization and dismal standards of working conditions, the rights and welfare of workers will always be compromised, and tragedies in workplaces such as in Kentex and HTI will not be the last.”
Since the fire broke on February 1, 2017, HTI has avoided full disclosure of the total number of workers who were possibly trapped inside the burnt main building of the factory, which is part of the Cavite Economic Zone. 
Preliminary findings of the National Fact Finding Mission conducted on February 4 and 5, 2017 by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and Karapatan revealed that “some of the survivors jumped out of the second and third floors and fell on the first floor of the factory building, where they crawled over bodies to get out of the burning building.” The survivors also feared that many more were trapped inside the burnt structure. 
According to the workers interviewed by the NFFM teams, the fire may have probably commenced after the panel saw sparked and started the fire, which quickly spread due to the centralized vacuum inside the building. The sawdusts and other materials such as styrofoam in the first floor used for packing finished products may have also contributed to the quick spreading of fire. Explosions were also heard, which possibly came from stored chemicals in the second floor.
The preliminary report also shows that during the fire, the employees used two staircases, which were the regular entrance and exit points of the workers, due to non-accessibility of the fire exit. The two staircases were not enough to accommodate the number of workers, forcing them to break the sliding windows and jump from their respective floors.
Initially, HTI management said that all the employees were “all accounted for” but it remains unclear if this figure includes contractual workers who were reporting directly to their respective agencies for headcount after the incident.  
Participants in the NFFM also observed the unusual demeanor of victims and witnesses of the incident, who were hesitant to give further details regarding the incident. 
“We hope that the HTI and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority should not whitewash the investigation of the incident. There must be an independent and transparent investigation, as well as full disclosure and accounting of the total workforce of HTI present during the tragedy,” added Taule. 
The NFFM is composed of Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Workers Assistance Center (WAC), Institute for Occupational Health and Safety for Development (IOHSAD), Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), KARAPATAN, BAYAN, AlterMidya, MIGRANTE, GABRIELA, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and community volunteers. ###