Canadian Duplicity Denounced by Unions in the Philippines
The release of new Canadian asbestos export data days before International Workers Memorial Day activities were due to take place came as a shock even to hardened ban asbestos campaigners.1 When we analyzed the figures for 2009, said Gerard Seno, National Vice President of the Associated Labor Unions (Philippines) we were shocked to see that 93% of all asbestos imports to the Philippines come from Canada. The hypocrisy which allows the dumping on Asian countries of this carcinogen, provided further impetus to the strenuous denunciations of Canada's support for the global asbestos lobby made by the Associated Labor Unions (ALU), Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) during events held in Manila to commemorate IWMD this year.
A letter was sent by ALU, BWI and TUCP to the Canadian Embassy asking for a meeting on April 28 to discuss the issue of Canadian asbestos exports to the Philippines. The reply received was dismissive: The Ambassador has other commitments throughout that day and he will not be able to attend the event or meet with your representatives.
In the run-up to IWMD, a gathering was held in Quezon City which was attended by 20 union officials and hundreds of trade union members.
Comments made by government officials, representatives of international agencies and union leaders and employers to the meeting supported the implementation of a promotional framework for safety and health. Delegates were invited to participate in a mass signing of a ban asbestos declaration which called for:
A focal point of the activities on April 23 was a symbolic asbestos tree, to which messages could be affixed. The tree used was a narra tree, the national tree of the Philippines and a symbol of long life. During the candlelight procession and torch lighting ceremony which concluded the day's activities, workers who were injured or killed at work last year were solemnly remembered by their colleagues. The torches will as a mark of respect remain lit until next year's IWMD.
The proceedings on April 23 marked the beginning of a week of awareness raising and mobilization on occupational health and safety issues which culminated on IWMD, April 28, with a march, public debate and mass signing by workers and members of the public of a statement calling for: Canada to stop mining and exporting asbestos to the Philippines and the adoption in the Philippines of measures to safeguard the lives of workers.
Commenting on the day's activities, Apolinar Tolentino, from the BWI Asia Pacific Office, said:
On a day when global attention is focused on the price paid by workers exposed to workplace hazards, we cannot ignore the fact that asbestos is the world's worst occupational carcinogen. Canada should have shown its concern for workers who died or were afflicted with asbestos-related diseases by meeting a trade union delegation on this day to hear our concerns. Once again, representatives of the Canadian Government have shown a callousness and ruthless disregard for the lives of Asian workers. This disregard is, without doubt, a form of racism which values our lives as being worth less than those of Canadian workers.
May 3, 2010