MANILA -- Amid the call center fire in a Davao mall that killed 38 lives and injuring several others, a labor group urged Congress to expedite the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Code in 2018.

Lawyer Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), said that a new law is needed to ensure the protection of the workers.

"Workers can't afford to wait for another raging inferno before Congress gets its act together and adopt a new law that will ensure safety and health at the workplace," he said in a statement.

"We call on the Senate, as the House of Representatives had long ago approved it on third reading, to expedite the passage of the Senate Bill No. 1317 or 'An Act Strengthening Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Standards and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof' now still hibernating in the upper chamber," he added.

Matula noted that there is no inclusive law on occupational safety and health, only administrative issuances by government agencies on different industries.

"We have no comprehensive law on occupational safety and health -- what we have are scattered administrative issuances by DOLE, DENR and DOE on OSH on different industries including, among others, manufacturing, construction, mining operations and power plants with archaic provisions which are difficult to implement with fines ranging only from PHP1,000 to PHP10,000," he said.

"FFW is one with the trade unions in the logic and assertion that unsafe or unhealthy workplaces are causing lives and limbs as well as destruction of properties which affect both workers and employers," the FFW official added.

The group also supports the key provisions that include the institutionalization of a workplace occupational safety and health program and structure as follows:

-- To include solidarity liability compliance with occupational health and safety standards among the employer, project owner, general contractor, contractor, subcontractor and any person who manages, controls or supervises the work being undertaken;

-- To strengthening the visitorial powers of the Secretary of Labor and Employment relative to compliance with occupational safety and health standards under Article 128 of the Labor Code.

Likewise, they are pushing for the increase in the penalties for unlawful acts relative to occupational safety and health standards as provided under the proposed statute in the House of Representatives.

"We are recommending that the fine collected shall be used for the operation of occupational safety and health initiatives including occupational safety and health training and education, and other occupational safety and health programs," Matula added. (PNA)