MAC/20: Mines and Communities

TVI Accused of Failing to provide protection and safety devices for workers

Published by MAC on 2003-11-18

TVI Accused of Failing to provide protection and safety devices for workers

By Tito Natividad Fiel

Sitio Canatuan, Tabayo, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, Philippines – Several documents and press releases of TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc., a Canadian mining firm who plan an open cast mine at Sitio Canatuan, have claimed that TVI's purpose is to assist the Philippine Government to perform its program for sustainable development in the field of mining.

But questions are being raised about this by TVI’s employees. The ask how TVI could seriously carry out such an aim when it has failed to provide all the necessary protection and safety devices to its employees, resulting in the contraction of occupational diseases.

In an interview with Rograciano De Casa Jr., a victim of lead poisoning which it is alleged was contracted while working with TVI, he noted that many workers inside the company have suffered several diseases and have not received proper attention, especially as they fear they will be dismissed from work if it came out into open.

On August 6, this year, Mr. De Casa lodged a formal complaint to the National Labor Relation Commission (NLRC), Sub-Regional Arbitration Branch No. 9 in Dipolog City against TVI.

The case against the company, docketed NLRC Case No. 09-08-15051-2004, is “for failure to provide adequate protection and safety devices to its employees resulting the contraction of occupational disease.

In a four page complaint of Mr. De Casa said, “TVI is doing mining here by virtue of Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) No. 054-96-IX issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on October 23, 1996 on an area situated within the ancestral lands of the Subanon People.”

The complaint notes that in “the MPSA under section XVI number 16.3, the contractor hereby agrees and obliges itself to comply with the provisions of Philippine Mining Act, its Implementing Rules and Regulations and other relevant laws and regulations.”

But “instead of performing its obligation to comply other relevant laws and regulation like the Labor Code of the Philippines, TVI failed to follow the law by failing to provide adequate protection and safety devices to the complainant while performing welding inside the used drums, tanks that caused to contract occupational disease or lead poisoning,” complaint said.

The complainant confirms that TVI never provided him with the necessary protection and safety devices, like a mask and exhaust fan to protect him from inhaling the fumes from the welding rod inside the drum and tanks. De Casa also maintains that due to TVI’s failure to provide adequate protection and safety devices, he himself contracted lead poisoning from the fumes of the welding rod, as was shown in laboratory tests.

He noted that when the company hired him to work as a welder/mechanic, he was in good health.

“For the record, I have never contracted lead poisoning before joining with TVI", the complaint added.

The complainant said that in addition to the company’s failure, it violates other specific provisions of the Labor Code of the Philippines.

TVI failed to comply with Article 157, Book IV, which cites that it shall be the duty of every employer to furnish his employees in any locality with free medical and dental attendance and facilities consisting of the services of a fulltime registered nurse when the number of employees exceeds fifty, especially when the employer maintains a hazardous workplace like mining.

“Instead of employing a qualified one, at the time when I worked with them, TVI employed a nurse with questionable qualifications, as I did not see any proof that the said nurse has passed any nursing license examination,” complaint said.

The second provision of the code that has been violated by TVI he added is Article 161, Book IV, which he cites in his complaint, that “it shall be the duty of any employer to provide all the necessary assistance to ensure the adequate and immediate medical and dental attendance and treatment to an injured or sick employees in the case of emergency.”

But TVI willfully failed to bring him to the hospital and provide all necessary assistance when he became sick with lead poisoning. Instead it forced him to seek an alternative assistance from the church, that brought his relief from lead poisoning through a detoxification process in Manila which reduced the lead content from his body to five (5) microgram per deciliter from ninety eight (98) microgram per deciliter during the height of lead contraction.

Due to the above legal violations, the complainant insisted of NLRC that TVI be punished as provided in the implementing rules and regulation of the labor code of the country.

In a four page affidavit, Mr. De Casa noted that on November 18, 2003, TVI effectively hired him as casual employee and welder/mechanic for three months at their mine workings. Everyday he welded the cyanide tank, scrubber, ball mill drums, and mercury traps of the said mining operation.

The affidavit notes that when part of his welding tasks include working inside a tank that is approximately 4x5 feet with an approximate entrance of 12 x 12 inches

“I started in welding the above-stated tanks and other specified drums and traps on November 20, 2003 and after work in the afternoon I felt bad and vomiting,” he said in an affidavit.

Everyday he was welding inside the tanks he felt the same illness as what he had initially felt on November 20.

On November 23, he went to the company’s clinic and met its head nurse Charity Balijado, but he was instructed to meet Mrs. Lydia Dandana, company’s assistant first aider.

Dandana gave him three paracetamol and other medicine for the stomach ache, but when he took the said medicines, he felt no better.

“I had worked everyday, but I suffered from vomiting and headaches after work in the afternoon,” he continues.

However the worst thing happened on January 15 this year, when he welded inside the ball mill drum for five hours and 15 minutes in the morning.

“When I went off duty at 11:45am, I went home at noon but I felt it was hard to breath and suffered a headache and having blurred vision” he said.

He did not go back to work in the afternoon, but at around 4:00pm of the said date, a TVI worker passed by at his home and he called to that person and shared what had happened to him and asked that it be reported to the clinic.

At around 5:00 p.m. he was picked up by the head nurse and other TVI workers and brought to the clinic.

The head nurse checked his blood pressure and it was found out that he had high blood pressure, so a medicine for blood pressure reduction was given to him.

The complainant went to sleep at TVI’s clinic, when he was still being observed, but his blood pressure was reduced only in the next day at around 4:00am.

At 6:00am on January 16, this year, he went home, then backed to the company’s clinic at around 7:30am to get the result, but the nurse concluded it was just high blood pressure.

After telling him that he had high blood pressure, the nurse checked his blood again, but it was found out that his blood pressure was reduced to 100 over 70, and the nurse gave him ferrous sulfate and paracetamol.

Because of his doubts of the said medication, since he still suffered from difficulties in breathing, he asked the nurse to recommend him for a check up by the specialist doctor.

The nurse recommended, through a letter addressed to Ver Recaforte, who was in-charge of his financial matters at the company, to avail of financial assistance from the company for further medical enquiries.

But when he met Mr. Recaforte, the latter shouted at him in an angry manner, and unilaterally concluded that he was just suffering from stress, all that was needed was rest, according to his affadavit.

Due to the unfavorable action of the management concerning his health, he took the initiative himself to go to the Municipal Health Officer of Siocon, Dampces T. Bahandi.

He told Dr. Bahandi all about his work with TVI, and the doctor suspected that he was suffering lead poisoning, but could not confirm this in the absence of testing equipment. He was referred to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center for a check up, but he was denied due to the absence again of the correct equipment for testing.

Starting to get seriously worried for the state of his health, he asked assistance from the Catholic Church through the DIOPIM Committee on Mining Issues, a committee concerned with the environment, especially around mining issues.

On February 2, the chairperson of DCMI assisted him to go to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, where he was referred to Dr. Erle S. Castillo, a specialist in Family Medicine/Toxicology.

After checking the job background of Mr. De Casa, the doctor checked his blood pressure and joints. After clinically analyzing the patient, Dr. Castillo concluded that the patient had heavy metal, specifically lead, exposure. The doctor advised Mr. De Casa to undergo a laboratory test to determine the exact level of mercury and lead content contaminating the blood of the complainant.

The test results, from Chempro Analytical Services Laboratories Inc. based in Pasig, Manila, on February 12 this year revealed that, “the mercury level of the blood of the patient has the detection limit of 0.1 microgram per deciliter or (ND; DL=0.1).

“Using atomic absorption spectrometry, the lead contamination reached the level of 98 microgram per deciliter, which surpassed the allowable lead contamination of 20 microgram per deciliter,” laboratory result added.

Dr. Castillo told the patient that he had endured the worst level of lead contamination.

“If untreated - the patient was told by Dr. Castillo - that he might suffer a locked jaw and joint problems anytime and if it will reach the brain the patient will suffer comatose”, the affidavit said.

The affidavit further said that the patient needed immediate treatment because if not, the lead will attack the kidney, as well as other organs, of the patient.

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