PHILIPPINES: Building workers demand safety

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MANILA — "Fight for ILO 167!" was the main chant taken up by some 5000 building workers here on September 10 as they marched to the Cultural Centre near the Manila Bay foreshore.

The march was to demand the immediate implementation by the Philippines government of International Labour Organisation convention 167, which covers health and safety in the construction industry worldwide. It also commemorated National Construction Workers' Day, which honours the 1.5 million workers in the building industry.

The march, sponsored by the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW), mainly involved construction unions affiliated to the National Federation of Labour, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and the Alliance of Progressive Labour.

"One construction worker dies every week in the Philippines. Poverty, lack of formal training, violation of trade union rights, inaccessible social benefits, and inadequate safety and health facilities hound them in their day-to-day existence", IFBWW-Philippines chairperson Albert Yuson explained. "The government [of President Joseph Estrada] is not serious about protecting the welfare of construction workers. Lawmakers should ratify ILO convention 167 in order to criminalise companies which violate the provisions of occupational safety", Yuson added.

After the lively march around city streets, the workers gathered outside the now-abandoned Manila Film Centre in the Cultural Centre complex for the rally. The MFC is infamous as the grave site of hundreds of workers who were entombed in quick-dry cement when a concrete roof collapsed in the early 1980s; Imelda Marcos, wife of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, had been pushing for early completion of the project for an international film festival.

Ernie Arellano, head of the National Federation of Labour, addressed the rally, demanding urgent action on workers' safety. Ging Veles from the Coalition for Peace called for the case against the Imelda Marcos over the MFC disaster to be reopened (the case sought restitution for the families of the workers killed there). Heavy rain forced the cancellation of further speakers.

BY JIM MCILROY