Victims of Philippines' worst factory fire drop claims in exchange for settlement of $4,500

Protesters hold placards during a rally to call for justice for the victims of the fire that gutted the Kentex footwear factory the day before, in Manila on May 14, 2015. The families of the 57 victims of the fire have dropped their claims for a sett
Protesters hold placards during a rally to call for justice for the victims of the fire that gutted the Kentex footwear factory the day before, in Manila on May 14, 2015. The families of the 57 victims of the fire have dropped their claims for a settlement of 151,200 pesos (S$4,500), said a company lawyer on June 23, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Families of 57 of the dead in the Philippines' worst factory fire have dropped their claims against the company in exchange for a settlement of 151,200 pesos (S$4,500), a company lawyer said on Tuesday.

Families of more of the workers who died in the May 13 fire at the two-storey Kentex Manufacturing factory in suburban Manila are expected eventually to agree to the settlement, said Kentex lawyer Renato Paraiso.

The fire at the factory that makes rubber slippers claimed 72 lives and sparked outrage over the allegedly unsafe conditions which contributed to the high death toll. Labour groups also denounced Kentex for relying on contract labourers who were not paid regular salaries.

However, Mr Paraiso said the settlement includes a waiver against any further claims against Kentex. "More or less, we gave them what is due to them," he told AFP.

He said the settlements were not achieved through coercion, stressing that they were negotiated with Labour Department arbiters present to explain the consequences to the families.

Mr Paraiso also said Kentex was not to blame for the fire since it was started by sparks from welders hired from a third company to repair a gate.

"We have no liability regarding what happened. It is just the moral obligation of the management in looking after the workers," he said.

Lawyers for the families of the dead could not be contacted for comment.

The minimum wage for a worker in a large factory is set at 481 pesos per day.

A spokesman for President Benigno Aquino stressed that any settlement with Kentex must be respected.

"However, any settlement cannot bind government in as far as investigations on violations of existing rules and regulations are concerned," said spokesman Abigail Valte.

Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the settlements would not protect Kentex management from any criminal charges.

The Department of Justice is investigating the fire after allegations that the factory did not have sprinklers or adequate fire exits and had bars on the windows that prevented people from escaping.

Mr Aquino had previously said the management could face charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide as well as labour law violations for using contractual workers.

Homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in jail under Philippine law.

The fire also prompted the government to inspect many other factories in the same area, only to discover numerous violations of the fire code.