Young workers at risk of injuries and deaths, says ILO study

A young farmer, walking barefoot, waters young vegetables with watering cans on a yoke in La Trinidad, Benguet.

YOUNG workers aged 15 to 24 dominate sectors of manufacturing, construction and services—the key drivers of the country’s 6.2 percent economic growth in 2018.

The Labor Force Survey of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in 2013 indicated that the youth comprise 19.2 percent or 7.3 million of the total workforce.

However, the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Manila said young workers in the Philippines are the most vulnerable to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

In its baseline study titled SafeYouth@Work, the ILO said majority of the young workers work in unstable conditions without written contracts, social-security cover, or labor union representation.

Khalid Hassan, country director of ILO-Philippines, said young workers face up to 40 percent higher rate of nonfatal injuries than older workers due to lack of awareness of safety and health standards.

“The fact that these young workers are new to the workplace, they are susceptible to intimidation, harassment and violence in the workplace,” said Hassan at the recent launch of the SafeYouth@Work report held at Dusit Hotel in Makati City.

He said young workers are not aware of their rights and are generally hesitant to speak up about the potential harm in their work for fear of losing jobs.

The ILO official also said young workers lack job experience and are less able to safely handle hazardous substances and job tasks.

The baseline study in cooperation with the US Department of Labor was conducted following the tragic lessons from the fire at Kentex slipper factory in Valenzuela City on May 13, 2015, which killed a total of 74 workers, most of them youth.

The tragic fire revealed the dismal state of manufacturing sector in the country, marked by a low rate of compliance in terms of occupational health and safety rules.

The investigation into the Kentex fire showed noncompliance with occupational health and safety since there are no fire escapes and no storage and labels for dangerous chemicals. Majority of workers in Kentex are paid based on “per piece” rate and work contracts are only given after 20 years of service.

The ILO study said there are enough laws on Occupational Health and Safety in the Philippines, but they are not properly implemented in workplaces due to lack of qualified labor inspectors.

At the same time, the study noted that majority of employers view training on Occupational Safety and Health measures as “time-consuming and a business expense rather than perceiving these actions as worthwhile investments.”

Katherine Brimon, ILO Project Coordinator for SafeYouth@Work, said the results of the study highlight the need to conduct a comprehensive social and behavior change campaign in the Philippines to create a culture of Safety and Health protection in the workplace, particularly in hazardous jobs in construction and agriculture where majority of workers are young.

She said the results of the ILO study highlight not only the poor implementation of the OSH law, but the lack of understanding and appreciation of the importance of health and safety among young workers.

Brimon said the study showed that agricultural workers, who are mostly young, identify sharp objects and manual handling as primary risk to their safety and health, “but do not recognize pesticide use as workplace hazard.”

Among the key findings of the ILO report:

• Young agricultural workers state that cuts and lacerations are the most common types of injuries that happen in their workplace, along with bruises or contusions. Fractures, soreness and pain were also mentioned by a third of young workers.

• Six out of 10 construction workers believe that people in their line of work suffer from work-related health problems. Joint and back pain, as well as breathing problems, were commonly mentioned.

• On the other hand, only one-third of the employers interviewed acknowledged the existence of occupational illnesses in their workplace.

Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), said the new OSH law signed by President Duterte mandates all employers to provide occupational safety and health orientation to their workers without exceptions.

“Employers should realize that company resources for safety and health programs must be considered an investment for the future and not part of their operational expenses,” said Matula at the launch of the ILO report. He added that, “keeping workers safe and healthy from their youth will also contribute to the longevity of workers.”

Brimon said the passage of the expanded OSH law—Republic Act 11058—also underscores the need for coordinative mechanisms for enforcing OSH standards in sectors where a lot of young workers are found, such as in agriculture.

Fear of losing jobs

Despite the hazards of their work, young workers admitted that they do not report such problems for fear of losing jobs.

The ILO study showed that young workers rely on their jobs to support their families while they also recognize the need to stay safe and healthy at work.

Government records on occupational fatalities from 2011 to 2016 showed that manufacturing, construction and agriculture have the highest number of work related deaths.

At the same time, work-related injuries have steadily increased from 48,975 in 2011 to 49,118 in 2013. In 2015, the number further increased to 50,961.

The study results show that occupational injuries are highest in the manufacturing sector, as well as in agriculture and retail.

Hassan said the ILO has a long-standing commitment to the promotion of decent work and safe and healthy working conditions for all workers, throughout their working lives.

He said improving the safety and health of young workers also contributes to the achievement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth, particularly in reaching Target 8.8 on safe and secure working environments for all workers by 2030, and Target 8.7 on ending all forms of child labor by 2025.

Valentine Offenloch, Technical Specialist, SafeYouth@Work Project, pushed for a tripartite action of the government, employers and workers to create a culture of prevention with focus on the safety and health of young workers.

He said the ILO is committed to sustain actions that can continue to overcome the barriers in realizing safe and healthy work and workplaces for young people in the Philippines.

Image credits: Sjors737 |


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