Occupational safety and health (OSH) has long been recognized as a basic human right. However, the implementation of multiple international OSH conventions and frameworks and the recognition of OSH as a key parameter for sustainable development have not translated into significant actions to protect workers across the globe. We are losing 7,500 lives daily from occupational diseases and injuries, all of which are preventable.
We mark this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day by amplifying our call: end the culture of neglect of workers’ safety and health! Workers’ lives should be prioritized over profits. We join workers from around the world in remembering workers who have died due to unsafe work. We also add our voices to the collective call to recognize occupational safety and health as a fundamental right at work.
Prioritize workers’ safety and health now! It took the lives of 72 workers in the Kentex slippers factory fire and the overwhelming call for justice to finally have the OSH Law passed in 2018. Even then, compliance with OSH standards dropped to 58.36% and continues to be subpar at 70.28%. The long-standing problem of labor inspection, especially of OSH, remains unaddressed. The annual evaluation of more than one million business establishments in the country is shouldered by only 774 labor inspectors — no surprise that less than 10% have been examined in the past three years.
Moreover, persistent violations remain unnoticed and unpunished by the authorities. The lack of first aiders, safety officers, and fire inspection clearances maintain their top spots in the list of OSH standards violations since 2019. While the number of occupational diseases is declining, occupational accidents are on the rise with the Skyway steel bar drop, Philam Life Building collapse and TP Marcelo ammonia tank explosion increasing the tally in the last two years.
Strengthen the country’s OSH system! Workers’ protection against COVID-19 is government responsibility. Suspension of labor inspection during the community quarantine left workplaces unchecked. The absence of stricter penalties for non-compliance with OSH standards allowed employers to continue their complacency and neglect of workers’ safety and health. The lack of OSH personnel made it more difficult to ensure correct and sustained compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
In addition, the absence of OSH provisions on informal work failed to protect the most vulnerable. Without adequate social protection, increased health system capacity, and a comprehensive national pandemic response, workers were forced to choose livelihood over their health, making COVID-19 transmission at work inevitable. While we do not have the exact number of infections contracted at work, the working-age group continues to make up the majority of COVID-19 cases, and regions with the most members of this workforce (NCR, Region IV A, III, VI, and VII) remain as the top infection sites in the country.
End the culture of neglect of workers’ safety and health! Act now to recognize occupational safety and health as a fundamental right at work! As sites of cheap labor, Asian countries have endured occupational tragedies almost yearly in the past 10 years and there seems to be no slowing down. The LG Polymer gas leak in India in 2020, the Hashem Food factory fire last year and the Philippines’ occupational accidents and diseases prove that governments have not learned from past mistakes and continue to fail in keeping workers safe. Workers are already battling a deadly hazard, as working for more than 55 hours per week contributes to death and disability from heart disease and stroke. Given this set-up, it will only be a matter of time before the drastic changes caused by the pandemic take a heavy toll on our workers.
There is no better time than now to recognize OSH as a fundamental right at work. Together with the freedom of association and collective bargaining, abolition of child labor, elimination of forced labor and elimination of discrimination at work, OSH should be a standard for decent working conditions. It should be upheld universally and applied to all workers, regardless of sector and industry, or a country’s level of development. It should be a non-negotiable benchmark for good business conduct. Making it a fundamental right at work can help ensure that workers’ welfare and rights are prioritized over products and profit.
As we remember all the workers who have died due to work-related diseases and accidents and to COVID-19, and those who were killed fighting for workers’ health and safety rights, let us ground ourselves in the core principles of decent work and stand for the protection of workers during this difficult time. We call on the country’s next leaders to support the workers’ safety and health agenda and the call to make OSH a fundamental right at work.
Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living!
Recognize Occupational Safety and Health as a Fundamental Right at Work!
Safe Jobs Save Lives! Safe Workplaces Now!