Barely Surviving 2005

The past year saw workers struggle to keep their jobs in the wake of contractualization and globalization, and their unions in the face of government policies against unionism. The labor movement also lost two of its most courageous leaders – the union presidents of Hacienda Luisita and Nestle Philippines Inc. in 2005.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Bulatlat.com

Leah Dupelis was not part of any Christmas and New Year revelry as she and her co-workers from the garments company Chunji International Phils., Inc. (CIPI) spent the holidays at the picket line in front of their company gates. CIPI is one of the factories inside the Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZ), 29 kms from Manila.

Dupelis is the chairperson of the CIPI chapter of Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW), a provincial alliance of labor organizations formed in October 2005 and affiliated with the Workers Assistance Center (WAC).

During the holidays, the 159 striking workers had tuyo (dried fish) and bahaw (cold rice). For their daily sustenance, Dupelis said, “Umaasa na lang kami sa hinahagis na barya ng mga driver ng jeep at truck na dumadaan sa harap ng picketline.” (We depend on the coins thrown by jeepney and truck drivers who pass by our picketline.)

The CIPI workers started their protest first week of November. They picketed the factory after learning from workers of Pacific Rare Specialty Metals and Chemicals, Inc. (PRMCI), a neighboring factory, that CIPI’s building was being sold to the latter. This came after 489 CIPI workers spent almost six months on forced vacation leave.

The workers told Bulatlat in an interview that management did not tell them the factory was shutting down. “Ang sabi lang sa amin walang gawa,” (We were just told there is no production) one of them said. Now, the workers are picketing the company to make sure it does not run away from its obligations to the workers.

At the very least, the workers are asking for a decent separation pay. The company is offering a payment of 10 days per year of service as against the workers demand of 30 days. As far as the 159 striking workers are concerned, the company owes them P13,426,705 ($255,649.37, based on an exchange rate of P52.52 per US dollar).

So far, 330 CIPI workers have been given P5,000 ($95.20) each which constitutes half of their separation pay. The workers are not sure, however, when the balance will be paid.

“Tumanda na kami sa pabrika tapos babaratin lang kami sa separation pay. Hindi naman yata makatarungan yun,” (We’ve grown old working in this factory and they will just give us a pittance as separation pay. That is unjust.) Dupelis said.

Meanwhile, the regular workers who have been with the company for more than 10 years and are now in their mid-30s worry that they would not be accepted in other CEPZ companies because of the hiring cut-off age of 27. They said some might be lucky enough to get hired but only as contractuals.

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The plight of Dupelis and her co-workers at the export processing zone reflects that of workers nationwide, said Bong Labog, national president of the militant labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement).

Labog said EPZ workers comprise half of the country’s total workforce. More than 80 percent of them are contractual or non-regular workers. The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) records show there are 1,069 firms in the 51 EPZs nationwide.

KMU also estimates that more than 50 percent of the country’s total workforce are contractual or non-regular. Aside from the EPZs, most of them are employed in fast food chains, gasoline stations, department stores and garment companies.

“There are stiffer working conditions in enclaves,” Labog said, because they serve as the country’s “show window,” made attractive for foreign investors. As a matter of policy, Labog said the EPZs implement three anti-worker schemes, namely massive contractualization, wage freeze and the no union-no strike policy.

The conditions of the workers in the EPZs therefore reflect the government’s labor policies, Labog added.

Strike-free?

The effect of globalization in a Third World country like the Philippines has caused massive retrenchment of workers. In fact, the records from the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) show that from 2002 to 2004 alone, 8,673 companies closed shop, affecting 184,231 workers nationwide.

Bulatlat tried to secure a copy of the 2005 statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) but was told that the records are strictly confidential. The BLES official, who asked not to be named, said it needs clearance from no less than the labor secretary before it could be given out for publication. “The statistics maybe bad for the economy,” the BLES official said.

Labog admitted that the incidences of strikes have been declining since the 1990s. The National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) recorded only 26 strikes in 2005 while the DoLE has declared the EPZs as strike free.

Labog said that the decline in strikes was not due to the workers’ passivity but to heightened suppression of workers and the anti-union policies especially in companies inside the EPZs. He said that massive retrenchment and company closures have resulted in an almost 20 percent reduction of the country��s total working force and, in effect, decreased the incidences of strikes and other forms of workers’ protests.

Purging unions

Flory Arevalo, a regular worker of the Korean-owned Chong Won Fashion Inc. (CWFI), visited the CIPI picketline together with her co-workers on the same day Bulatlat went there. Arevalo said that they wanted to express their support to the protesting CIPI workers and that they fear they might suffer the same fate.

A manufacturer of knitted clothes, the CWFI is registered to operate for 15 years. Now on its 16th year in the country, Arevalo and her co-workers fear their company might close shop this year in order to evade a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with their 170-member union.

CWFI employs 800 workers but only 200 of them are regular.

In 2000, regular workers of the CWFI formed the Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Chon Won (NMCW) but management has continuously declined to forge an agreement with the union. In March 2005, management offered a Voluntary Separation Program (VSP), targeting regular workers and active union members and officers. Around 30 workers accepted the offer.

Arevalo said the company is poised to subcontract its work and has also suspended for 15 days the union officers and active union members. She also said the company has fired two of their previous union presidents and eight other union members.

Henry Halawig, a paralegal for labor legal services, noted that in the first district of Laguna province covering the area from Biñan to Calamba (35 kms south of Manila) alone, two companies closed shop when the workers formed a union.

Unrelenting

Despite the restrictions, however, Labog said 2005 saw workers struggling to keep unionism alive. Many sought to keep their unions alive and others tried to put up unions even in no union-no strike areas.

“The formation of unions is a basic necessity for workers,” the labor leader said. “There should be collective strength and effort for their demands to be effectively implemented,” he added.

However, the government seems not keen to recognize this. In Laguna, the regional labor union Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Pamantik) recorded five unions formed in 2004 but they have not been recognized by the DoLE.

But KMU, Labog said, encourages unions to organize even non-regular workers and to fight for their regularization. This is usually included as a major demand in their CBA negotiations.

For Labog, a “monumental achievement” for the labor movement in 2005 is the regularization of 1,500 contractual workers of Dole Philippines last September. “Hindi madaling gawin yun,” Labog said, adding it happened during KMU’s second CBA negotiation with the Dole management, a multinational company engaged in the pineapple growing and canning in Bukidnon province in southern Philippines.

Struggle for life and limb

Labog also admits that 2005 was one of the most dangerous years for labor leaders and militant unionists, saying it has become state policy to eliminate dissent.

“Ramdam na ramdam yung malaking pagkakaiba dahil may security risks,” (We really feel the big difference because of security risks.) Labog said. However, despite the dangers, he said the union leaders have continued organizing albeit in abnormal circumstances.

The biggest blows to the labor sector last year were the murders of Ding “Ka Fort” Fortuna and Ricardo “Ka Ric” Ramos, presidents of Nestle Philippines and Central Azucarrera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), respectively.

For the organized workers, the deaths of two well-known labor leaders were “a testament to the Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s policy of literally killing dissent.”

Labog said they represented the two most crucial issues in the country. Fortuna represented the workers’ struggle against a multinational company while Ramos represented the struggle for land and wages against one of the country’s most influential and powerful political clans, the Cojuangcos of Tarlac province.

Meanwhile, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) has recorded 27 cases of assault at the picketline from January to September 2005, affecting 1,457 individuals and involving 11 companies nationwide.

Among the incidents documented are 17 cases of physical assault that injured 1,011 strikers.

“Pero sa kabila ng lahat ng pang-aabuso at paninikil, hindi naantig ang mga manggagwa at tuloy-tuloy pa ring lumaban at nag-organisa ng unyon,” (But despite the oppression and suppression, workers are still unwavering and they continue to struggle and organize unions.) Labog said.

Some of the more notable strikes this year were those of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corp. in Benguet, Henry Sy-owned Shoe Mart Department Store, Ajinomoto and Rustan’s Makati.

While the four-year old strike at Nestle in Cabuyao continues at present, the year 2005 also saw the end of the bloodiest and most controversial strike in recent history, that of the 6,000-strong farm and mill workers of Hacienda Luisita.

After it involved 13 deaths (including a massacre of seven farm workers and that of one of their union presidents), the strike concluded Dec. 8 with the workers getting most of their demands. These include P21 million ($399,847.68) for CATLU and P8.2 million ($156,131.00) for the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) in wage and other benefits and some P30 million ($571,210.97) in profits from the harvest of standing sugarcanes. More importantly, the strike has opened the possibility for the farm workers to finally own the land that is rightfully theirs. Bulatlat.com

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