KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 4 / October-November-December 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

In August and September, 1997, Dr Rhea dela Reyes, a trainer from the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), an APHEDA project partner in the Philippines, undertook a study tour to Australia. IOHSAD delivers training for workplace-based Occupational Health and Safety Committees from a range of trade unions across a number of industries in the Philippines.

by Peter Jennings

Dr Rhea dela Reyes is responsible for IOHSAD's Health Care Services, where medical clinics go to the workplaces to deliver services to workers. She is also Coordinator of IOHSAD's Research, Information and Advocacy Desk and has worked for IOHSAD since 1991.

The study tour by Dr Reyes took her to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. The purpose of her visit was to report to sponsoring unions on this project and to hold discussions with Australian occupational health and safety experts.

Four Australian unions, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU), the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) are currently sponsoring this project through APHEDA.

In order to strengthen and expand the support IOHSAD receives from rank and file unionists in Australia, she also visited a number of worksites and addressed workers' meetings during the study tour. In NSW, she spent a day visiting coalmines in the Hunter Valley with the CFMEU Mining Division. In Canberra, the CFMEU Construction Division took her to a major building site to address the workers. In both Melbourne and Adelaide, the CPSU Taxation Division took her to visit a number of offices of the Australian Taxation Office, where many workers are making small, regular, tax-deductible donations towards this OH&S training in the Philippines.

While in Brisbane, she addressed two "fringe" seminars of the ACTU Congress, one in the evening at the Paddington Workers Club and the other a joint lunchtime seminar at Brisbane City Hall with Amnesty International.

Rhea talked about the impact that globalisation, especially the formation of APEC, is having on workers in the Philippines, specifically their occupational health and safety rights. She also gave a number of examples of problems confronting Filipino workers, as well as the lack of commitment by the government to overcome these problems.

One example was from the coal mine explosion in Malangas. Two years ago, a disaster struck at the government-owned Malangas underground coal mine on the island of Mindanao in southern Philippines. An underground explosion killed 84 miners. The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) from Manila was requested by the local union to investigate.

Their findings condemned the company for cost-cutting and unsafe practises. There was only one person in the whole mine monitoring for methane gas, and to save money, other gas monitoring equipment and the larger of the two ventilation suction pumps had been shut down for some weeks. Moreover, blasting was taking place in a nearby tunnel. This blasting set off a fireball which swept through 9 kilometres of mine tunnels, setting off other dynamite which had been stockpiled inside the mine.

Miners in the Philippines earn just 100 pesos a day (about $5) - just under half the estimated daily cost of living. Mining unions often claim that competition from casual contract workers has resulted in a significant decrease in health and safety standards.

A second example was from the retail industry. The industry is almost totally casualised, with very little permanency of employment. Some of the conditions for salespeople (almost all women) include having to stand all day (to be caught sitting down can lead to dismissal). Also, having to seek permission from management to go to the toilet (resulting in a high incident of urinary tract disease).

Another frequent condition is that female workers often have to undergo a physical examination to show there are no abdominal stretch marks to prove they have no children as a condition for employment. (Management is reluctant to employ a woman who has a child as they more frequently request days off.)

A third example was from the semi-conductor industry. Recent research by IOHSAD shows serious reproductive problems among women in the semiconductor industry where constant chronic exposure to toxic chemicals affects their health. Women's rights in this industry are also further violated because most of them are required to undergo a physical examination, just like retail workers, to prove they have no children.

Dr Reyes said that the Philippine government shows little commitment to the improvement of workers' conditions. "Lack of government monitoring is another problem as far as occupational health and safety in the Philippines is concerned. At present, there are about 350,188 registered workplaces, but there are only 57 labour inspectors to monitor health and safety. And, they are more concerned about the technical aspects of monitoring, such as electrical wiring, rather than the existing hazards in the workplace which are deleterious to the workers' health."

"In 1990, out of these 350, 000 establishments, only 159 had submitted their safety reports. In 1993 only about 350 had done their reporting. At present, only 5% have submitted their reports to the Department of Labor. This definitely leaves the Department of Labor helpless because it relies only on the sanitised reports of the employers. And, this is directly due to the fact that another government agency is offering a cash reward at the end of the year for any establishments which have no accidents or illness recorded in a one year period.

"There is also a lack of penalty provisions as far as implementation of occupational health and safety standards are concerned. For example, an employer who is found violating the standards would just be fined about $500, which is very much cheaper than improving working conditions."

Ross Daniels (Amnesty International), Dr Rhea dela Reyes (IOHSAD) and Peter Jennings (APHEDA) address Brisbane seminar Trade Without Human Rights? The Challenge for APEC, Sept 3, 1997 (Photo: Dee Hunt)

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) is a long-term and valued project partner of APHEDA. For many years IOHSAD has undertaken training for workplace-based Occupational Health and Safety Committees across a large number of industries.

These industries include mining, plantation agriculture, manufacturing such as whitegoods, textiles, footwear, paper and rubber as well as chemical and plastics industries, semi-conductor industries, retail and government employees such as street sweepers and garbage collectors.

In recent years, IOHSAD's training has placed a heavy emphasis on developing Occupational Health & Safety committees for worksites with predominantly women workers as well as focussing on the impact of environmental degradation and industrial pollution on health in nearby communities. The current program aims to train over 1,400 Occupational Health and Safety workplace committees.

IOHSAD also undertakes action research into hazardous industries, assists unions during enterprise bargaining on occupational health and safety issues, lobbies politicians to improve legislation, conducts information and education services on occupational health and safety issues for health personnel and the media, and runs health clinics for workers on worksites.

You can make a donation to IOHSAD through APHEDA the Humanitarian Overseas Aid Agency of the ACTU.
Trades Hall Box 3,
4 Goulburn Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9264 9343 or Fax: (02) 9261 1118