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Lawmakers grill DOLE execs over issuance of compliance certificate to Kentex

Lawmakers on Wednesday grilled Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials for allegedly being lenient in the issuance of labor compliance certificate to Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, owner of the gutted slippers factory in Valenzuela City where 72 people died.

At the hearing of the House of Representatives' committee on labor and employment, DOLE regional director for National Capital Region Alex Avila said the DOLE issued compliance certificate to Kentex on Sept. 14, 2014 after the department's Labor Law Compliance Office (LLCO) found the company to have complied with all its recommendations regarding labor health and safety standards.

“Yes, they have a valid certificate of compliance. This was after our LLCO conducted three site inspections at the Kentex factory and found the company to have complied with all the recommendations of the LLCO,” Avila said.

He said the compliance certificate issued to Kentex was under the “Hazardous Workplace” category.

Site visits

Avila admitted that during the first site inspection conducted on January 13, 2014, there were several deficiencies found on the part of Kentex such as lack of health and safety organization, lack of occupational health and safety-related training, no guidelines on hepatitis-b and tuberculosis prevention, and failure to submit employee medical reports.

He, however, said that on the second and third site-visits done on March 5, 2014 and March 17, 2014, Kentex “was able to submit the necessary documents and complied with all the recommendations.”

However, when asked by committee chairman, Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, on the number of workers declared by Kentex during the inspection, Avila said there were only 46 workers declared by the company as its employees.

Nograles noted that based on initial investigation by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), there were almost 200 workers working with Kentex and that more than 100 of them were inside the factory when the fire incident occurred on May 13.

200 workers

“Labor compliant ba na masasabi na meron pala silang almost 200 workers pero 46 lang ang naka-declare?” Nograles said.

It was then that Avila told the panel that majority of the workers at the Kentex factory were actually not employees of Kentex but were just provided by the manpower agency, CJC Manpower Services.

It has earlier been reported that CJC Manpower Services was operating illegally as it was not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as well as with DOLE.

During his turn to testify, Engineer Joseph Vedasto, the DOLE-NCR labor compliance officer who conducted the three site inspections on Kentex, admitted that he was informed during the inspection that the CJC was a subcontractor of the firm.

“And did it not occur to you to check whether CJC is registered or not?” Nograles asked.

“The instruction was just to note if there was a subcontractor. There was no instruction to investigate it,” Vedasto replied.

Vedasto said he tried to interview some of the workers under CJC but they refused.

“Hindi ninyo dapat agad-agad binigyan ng labor compliance yan (Kentex) hanggat hindi ninyo naiimbestigahan ng mabuti. Dahil ngayon lumalabas sa initial investigation na kulang yung number ng fire exits sa dami ng workers,” Nograles remarked.

Fire drills

Upon further questioning by Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Guinigundo, Vedasto also admitted that he just noted in the compliance report that Kentex was conducting fire drills based on the business permit issued by the Valenzuela government.

“The conduct of fire safety drill is a pre-requisite in the issuance of business permit,” Vedasto said.

“But you did not actually check with the BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection) if Kentex was actually conducting regular fire drills? Hindi ka man lang nag-check if Kentex has a fire safety certificate from BFP?” Guinigundo said.

“No, sir,” Vedasto admitted.

Vedasto also admitted that there were no fire sprinklers and fire hose box in the factory, but said that he did not take note of it in the report as “it was not included in the compliance certificate check-list.”

Extra mile

“Meaning, you did not go an extra mile, kung ano lang ang nasa checklist, yun lang talaga ang tinignan mo,” Guinigundo remarked.

Guinigundo asked if Vedasto could present photos inside the Kentex factory when the latter conducted the site inspections, the DOLE officer admitted that he has none as he did not bring his camera phone during the inspections.

“Hindi ko po dinala ang cellphone ko dahil alam ko po na talamak ang magnanakaw sa Valenzuela,” Vedasto said.

“So wala kang pruweba man lang na merong fire exits? You just wanted us to take your word for it?” Guinigundo asked.

“Yes, sir,” Vedasto said. —KBK, GMA News