Labor group pushes for worker protections as heat soars

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Labor group pushes for worker protections as heat soars
Laborers work on the construction of the Binondo–Intramuros Bridge which spans the Pasig River in Manila on March 24, 2022.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — A labor group has called on the government and employers to establish measures to ensure the safety of workers such as extended breaks as temperatures continue to soar.

National labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) stressed on Sunday that extreme heat is a “health and safety hazard that must be met with responsive measures.” 

Workers across all sectors are affected by extreme heat, but some occupations face a greater risk, particularly those in agriculture, construction, transportation and tourism.

Workers in offices and factories are also susceptible to heat stress if indoor temperatures are not maintained within safe limits.

“It is the responsibility of the government and employers to ensure that workers are safe while working,” KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis said in Filipino. 

To protect workers, KMU urged the government and employers to replicate model policies in Qatar and India such as extended drinking and rest breaks, and the implementation of no-work hours. 

It added that temperature caps must be set to standardize what qualifies as safe for workers.

Thousands of schools in the Philippines suspended in-person classes last week as parts of the country endured dangerously high temperatures exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon and climate change. 

Protection for informal workers

In 2023, the Department of Labor and Employment issued an advisory outlining guidelines for enterprises to address extreme heat situations. These include provisions for rest breaks, temperature-appropriate uniforms and free distribution of drinking water. The advisory also encourages workers to drink two to three liters of water daily. 

KMU, however, stressed that the advisory falls short in several areas, particularly its exclusion of protections for outdoor workers. 

“This also does not cover informal sector workers such as vendors, jeepney drivers, and others. The government should take responsibility for the safety of workers who do not have a clear employer-employee relationship,” Adonis said in Filipino. 

The labor group also criticized the statement of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) that heat breaks should not be mandatory and only apply to select employees. 

“These capitalists who stay in air-conditioned rooms all day are always getting heated when it comes to the welfare of their workers. It won’t hurt you to fulfill your responsibilities,” Adonis said. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said that governments should adopt regulations specifying maximum temperatures to which employees may be exposed at work, and provide social insurance and assistance to help workers and their families to adapt to the consequences of heat stress. 

It added that employers can reduce the impact of heat-related hazards through infrastructure-related measures such as building standards.

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