GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Locked in from the outside, ‘stay-in’ workers in a garment store in Butuan City burned to death to their death following a dawn fire that gutted the building where they are staying.

Seventeen of the 22 workers living in the dormitory at the third floor of the building perished in the inferno.  One of those killed was a five-month pregnant worker.

Three survived by jumping out of the building’s top story but suffered injuries.  One worker is listed as still missing.

According to the leftist labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chapter in the city, the fire started at the ground floor and quickly spread throughout the NOVO Jeans and Shirts Department store along Montilla Blvd Wednesday (May 9) dawn.

“They were unable to escape the fire as they were locked from the outside and there was no accessible fire or emergency exits,” the KMU said in a press statement.

NOVO Jeans operates a chain of garments store in the country.

The Butuan City branch reportedly has at least 40 workers, more than half of them are living in the dormitory.  Most of them are casual workers who are laid off from work after five months to avoid labor standards that require employers to elevate to regular status all workers who have worked for more than five months.

Labor officials are also investigating the incident following allegations that the victims were also paid below the mandated minimum wage.

Authorities are now conducting investigation including finding possible criminal charges against the owner of the garment store chain owner.

The deadly fire was the third to hit the Caraga Region, some 950 kilometers south of the Philippine capital of Manila, in the last six months.

According to the KMU, four (4) casual workers of Filipinas Palmoil Plantation, Inc. (FPPI) were also burned to death last November 18 and December 21 because of ‘unsafe working conditions.’