In the wake of a fire this week in a Manila shoe factory that killed 72 workers, the Philippines government is considering criminalizing some occupational safety and health and building code violations.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the latest fire incident made it “imperative” for stringent laws to be put in place.

Coloma said the executive department supported Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz’ calls for the government to take a strong stand through the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Baldoz said the existing Occupational Safety and Health Standards, promulgated in 1978 and amended in 1989, contains no criminal penalties.

Most of those killed were female contract workers.

"Once again..."

The International Labour Organization (ILO) issued a statement in which it offered its assistance in improving safety and health conditions in Philippine workplaces.

“Once again, we find ourselves mourning workers whose lives have been cut short as a result of workplace accidents,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said. “Often such accidents are preventable.”

Although the Philippines have experienced rapid economic growth in the last five years, working poverty has only declined by one per cent in that time.

Lessons not learned

The Geneva-based UN Working Group on business and human rights noted that the Philippines fire echoed another recent tragedy at a garment factory in the region, underscoring the fact that “the lessons of the Rana Plaza disaster have still not been learned.”

More than a thousand garment workers were killed in May 13, 2013 in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh. Although cracks in the building caused an evacuation, later that day the building was declared safe and workers were ordered to return and threatened with the loss of a month’s salary if they did not.