Aboitiz intensifies harassment of workers to avert strike

VECO workers are being asked to explain why they had taken part in the May Day rally wearing their uniforms, and why they had hurled tomatoes at the picture of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III during the May 1 program.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – As the union of the Visayan Electric Company (VECO) employees in Cebu gears for a strike to urge the company to share with them a part of its increased profits, the VECO has reportedly intensified its harassment of and threats to the employees and to the union itself.

The electric company early this week handed out to each employee who had joined the May 1 Labor Day rally a “notice of administrative hearing.” Experiences at VECO over similar notices are apparently not encouraging. Unionists say notices like that had served as prelude to termination or suspension.

The VECO management has also reportedly been mobilizing its managers, supervisors and other confidential employees to pressure employees into signing a resolution that members are abandoning their union (VECEU) in exchange for an association formed by the company.

The unionists read all these as VECO’s methods for discouraging them from pushing through with their planned strike. Last week, VECO’s lawyers had warned them that their would-be strike is likely illegal, following VECO’s flipping on its earlier recognition of the VECEU. The latter is a duly-registered union and bargaining agent of the 252-member union in VECO, which has nearly 900 total employees including the contractuals.

Prelude to termination and union-busting

VECO workers who joined the May Day rally this year are being asked this week to explain why they had taken part in the rally wearing their uniforms, and why they had hurled tomatoes at the picture of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III during the May 1 program. In Metro Manila, workers had also pelted with various things not just the picture but the huge effigy of President Aquino.


VECO employees at a May Day rally in Cebu (Photo by Richie Gomez / bulatlat.com)

Progressive labor groups marked last May Day with big rallies in urban centers nationwide to call Aquino to task for his anti-worker and anti-people programs and policies.

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Casmero Mahilum, VECO employees’ union president, explained that actually, only he and other leaders from other establishments had hurled tomatoes at Aquino’s picture last May 1. He urged VECO to respect the workers’ freedom of expression, freedom of association and right to launch a strike, among others. He said VECO employees had joined the May 1 rally in their uniforms “because we are proud of who we are and where we work.”

Recipients of the dreaded notice include all union officers and some active union members. In a press conference Tuesday in Cebu City, Mahilum shared to the press that in the past two years, he and 15 others had either been dismissed or suspended after receiving a similar notice.

Mahilum received a notice of administrative hearing less than two years ago when the Aboitiz-led VECO management took offence from his May 1 speech in 2009.

“Employees who received a notice of administrative investigation are called to the management office to explain why they did what they did. (But) It seems to be just a process being observed in VECO to give an impression that there is due process,” Mahilum told Bulatlat.com. His own case of illegal dismissal is still pending in court.

The negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement between VECO management and the employees’ union have been stalled since last month, when it reached the part about wage hike and other economic provisions. But with the combined threat of suspension or termination of union officers and some members, coupled with the reported management hand in forming another union, the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement appear to be in danger now of ever proceeding.


VECO CEO Erramon I. Aboitiz stands beside President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino in 2010, as they mark Aboitiz’s completion of some power plants. (Photo from aboitizpower.com)

To push the management to hear out their wage demand, as well as their refusal to downgrade some fellow employees into contractual status or their union into a labor-management council, the VECO Employees Union had filed a notice of strike. But now the union leaders are accusing VECO of trying to crush the strike even before it starts, through these combined threats of suspension or dismissal, formation of a company union, withholding of union funds, etc.

Mahilum called on all workers and employees in VECO and in other establishments to support their struggle. He also asked the people of Cebu for support and understanding, should their services become affected or disrupted. He explained that the union has no choice but to defend itself, and that may result in some service disruption. He said the union is also asking the support of the local government, as they are only exercising their trade union and democratic rights.

VECO is the second largest electric utility in the Philippines, serving the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay and Naga and four municipalities of the greater part of Metro Cebu – Liloan, Consolacion, Minglanillla and San Fernando. According to its website, its franchise service covers an area of about 674 square kilometers with an estimated population of 1.73 million. It is owned and managed by the Aboitiz Power Corporation, a holding company for the Aboitiz group’s investments in power generation, distribution, retail and power services. ()

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