Banana workers lift strike notice, 52 contractual workers to be regularized

Esperidion Cabaltera, president of the MWLU-II-NAFLU-KMU, ascribed their victory to the “unified resoluteness and courage of the workers” who, he said, have long been experiencing injustices in Musahamat.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Banana workers from the multinational firm Musahamat Farms, Inc. (Farm 2) in Pantukan, Compostela Valley scored a “preliminary” victory April 15 in their struggle for improved wages and labor conditions. The union which fought with the 52 workers who refused to sign new contracts, and instead asserted their regularization, obtained a favorable settlement when the management agreed to “absorb as regular employees” those willing to continue to work at Musahamat Farm 2. The agreement says the regularization will be “subject to the compliance of pre-employment requirements such as police and NBI clearance; SSS, BIR, etc.”) Majority of these workers have been with Musahamat for up to seven years now.

Based on the agreement signed by the union and Musahamat management, the notice of strike is now deemed resolved.

On March 22, the union, Musahamat Farm 2 Workers Labor Union-National Federation of Labor Unions-Kilusang Mayo Uno (MWLU-II-NAFLU-KMU), filed a “notice of strike” and established a workers’ camp in anticipation of this strike. The unionists voted overwhelmingly in favor of this strike on March 28. On April 2, hours after protesting farmers were fired at (killing two) in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, the banana workers’ protest camp was also fired at nearly killing three of the unionists.

Members of Musahamat Workers Labor Union stage a protest outside the corporate headquarters of Musahamat Farm Inc. in Pryce Tower, Bajada, (Photo taken March 22 by Ace R. Morandante/davaotoday.com)
Members of Musahamat Workers Labor Union staging a protest outside the corporate headquarters of Musahamat Farm Inc. in Pryce Tower, Bajada, (Photo taken March 22 by Ace R. Morandante / davaotoday.com)

Undeterred, the workers held pickets in front of the Musahamat Farms Office in Davao, and in the Pantukan farm, even as their union leaders were locked in negotiations with Musahamat Farms, Inc.

Aside from the back-to-work order and opening for the regularization for the 52 workers, the settlement agreement signed April 15 by the union, Musahamat management, and representatives of NAFLU-KMU headed by Regional Coordinator Romualdo Basilio, also listed the following:

> All suspensions were deemed revoked and suspended workers are to resume work immediately;
> Musahamat will provide at least P1,500 financial assistance to workers who already served their suspensions.

At the same time, the unionists agreed to respect certain no-rally zones designated by Musahamat management.

Musahamat is a Kuwait-based multinational firm engaged in export of bananas and other fruits. It employs some 500 workers in Farm 2 in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, but many are not regular on the job despite having served the company for years.

Esperidion Cabaltera, president of the MWLU-II-NAFLU-KMU, ascribed their victory to the “unified resoluteness and courage of the workers” who, he said, have long been experiencing injustices in Musahamat.

He is proud of their union’s solidarity and active struggle with those who are not considered regular on the job but job-order workers who had worked years in Musahamat. He said the 52 workers going back to work this Monday April 18 have also supported them in establishing a “genuine union” in Musahamat. Before the certification election last February, the workers described their former union as a “company union.”

Aside from contractualization, Musahamat employs aerial spraying which has been proved harmful to the communities in the area and in the vicinity, Carlo Olalo, KMU Southern Mindanao secretary general, told Bulatlat. He added that the workers reported to them how Musahamat is also not complying with required safety drills and gears for its workers.

Just the beginning

The union is now preparing to negotiate for an improved collective bargaining agreement “that will ensure economic and non-economic benefits for all,” Cabaltera said.

Meanwhile, labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno Southern Mindanao applauded the banana workers’ victory and congratulated them for “yet another inspiring victory.” The job-order workers’ refusal to remain contractual on the job and their union’s willingness to lead the workers to a strike due to this issue followed the successful struggle against the implementation of piece-rate system that brought down wages in another banana plantation, Sumifru.

Carlo Olalo, KMU Southern Mindanao secretary general, said that “Once again, the banana workers in Pantukan have shown us the power of the workers when they unite and act collectively and militantly.”

In past statements, Olalo had blamed the “repressive climate under the Aquino administration” for making it increasingly difficult to form unions. He explained that once news leaked out that workers are organizing a union, they are immediately harassed by the military or illegally dismissed. Due to this and to the increasingly rampant contractualization, he said a mere 2.5 percent of workers in Southern Mindanao are unionized.

For the Musahamat banana workers’ hard-earned rights, Olalo said, they have braved militarization, vilification, and attempted murder. He expressed optimism that this triumph will happen also to other workers elsewhere. ()

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