NGO: Eton tragedy highlights need to end subcontracting

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 28 2011 03:38 PM | Updated as of Jan 28 2011 11:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines – A non-government organization is urging the Labor Department to terminate existing subcontracting chains in the construction sector following the death of 10 workers in an ongoing high-rise residential project in Makati City.

In a statement, the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research Inc. (EILER) said that Eton Properties Philippines Inc., the owner of the Makati condominium project, may escape liability in the tragedy due to its subcontracting arrangements.

Ten workers installing a glass panel at the 39-story Eton Residences Greenbelt fell to their deaths after the gondola carrying them snapped before noon on Thursday.

“As we mourn for the death of 10 construction workers, we also lament that Eton can easily escape liability from the tragedy due to the subcontracting arrangements,” said EILER executive director Anna Leah Escresa-Colina.

“We urge the Department of Labor and Employment to look not just on the health and safety compliance of the construction project but also on the subcontracting schemes that Eton employs for the project,” she added.

Escresa-Colina noted that big construction investors, like Lucio Tan-owned Eton, normally tap a web of subcontractors that employ contractual workers for specific parts of a construction project to minimize labor cost.

She said subcontractors generally pay lower wages, and compromise health and safety standards to minimize costs.

She said the Eton workers who died were earning only P260 per day, below the P404 approved minimum wage in the National Capital Region.

“We have seen a similar experience in Hanjin Shipyard, where dozens of subcontracted workers died from work-related accidents. How many more workers should die before the government does something to protect workers from irregular and hazardous work arrangements?” Escresa-Colina said.

EILER, citing a 2008 study by the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Center, reported that 1.79 million of the total 1.8 million workers in the country’s construction industry are “contractuals” or project-based earning low wages.

Meanwhile, Eton said it was reviewing the compliance of its contractors and construction management consultant to safety regulations following Thursday’s tragedy.

“Eton, its contractors and construction management consultant are cooperating with police authorities and the city engineer’s office as they investigate the cause of this accident. In the meantime, the company’s priority is to ensure that the victims’ families are informed and extended needed assistance by the contractor,” Eton spokesperson Erwin de Pedro said in a statement.

The 10 workers who fell several stories to their deaths on Thursday were employees of ARLO Aluminum, the glass contractor of the condominium project.

Initial investigation by authorities showed the gondola the workers were riding snapped due to “overloading” as it could only accommodate 6 people.

According to witness accounts, the workers rode the gondola instead of taking the stairs during their break time.

The Makati government has ordered the suspension of construction work at the condo project while investigation is ongoing.