Lapanday workers complain of harassment after strike notice

By
November 18 2012

Union vice-chaiperson Larry Arguilles said that they have since observed many unidentified personnel in plain clothes in their packaging plant since then.  He said these men entered the company grounds freely while workers are required to wear prescribed uniforms and identification cards.  He added that these same men have been going from house to house of union members to discourage them from pursuing the strike.

By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Union members of a packing factory and subsidiary of agribusiness magnate Lapanday Fruits Corporation complained they were harassed after they filed a Notice of Strike (NOS).

Amidst a deadlock of the collective bargaining negotiations with their employers, members of the Lapanday Box and Plastic Plant Workers Union (LBPPWU) filed a strike notice before the regional branch of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board of the Department of Labor and Employment last October 11.

Union vice-chaiperson Larry Arguilles said that they have since observed many unidentified personnel in plain clothes in their packaging plant since then.  He said these men entered the company grounds freely while workers are required to wear prescribed uniforms and identification cards.  He added that these same men have been going from house to house of union members to discourage them from pursuing the strike.

Arguilles said that these men, allegedly headed by a certain Otay Perez, have been telling workers that those who voted yes in the strike balloting will be restricted from entering company grounds.  He said a sitio (sub-village) leader is also allegedly involved but the workers did not name him.

Strike balloting is the process in which union members decide whether to conduct a strike.  Union members voted 27-20 in favor of going through with the strike and so the union immediately filed an NOS.

Arguilles also said Lapanday hired more guards.  “Before, there were only 10 guards; they added another 15,” Arguilles said.

Harassment and violence have long plagued striking workers of Lapanday.  In the 1980s, several union leaders were killed by anti-communist cults believed to be backed by the management.

Union chairperson Romelito Pablo said they also filed a blotter on the incidents of harassments.  “But we do not know of any developments yet,” he said.

Workers were also disqualified from availing of cash advances from Pioneer Ventures, Incorporated, a loan association of which they are made members of upon employment.

However, Arguilles said the workers are unfazed despite the harassment.  “Unionism is a guaranteed right in the constitution and to hold a strike is legal.  As far as we are concerned, we have complied with all legal procedures,” he said.

Right to just wages

In the case of LBPPWU, the collective bargaining negotiations went into deadlock because workers and management did not agree on the terms of the increase of the salaries and benefits demanded by workers.

Pablo narrated that in their last session of negotiations with Lapanday management last November 7, the union initially proposed a three-year gradual increase of their salaries.  PHP 75 on the first year; PHP 60 on top of that on the second year; and a final PHP 50 on the third year.

“To show good faith,” he said they later lowered their proposal to yearly increases of PHP 60, PHP 45, then PHP 35.  However, Pablo said that the management’s proposal was PHP 5 on the first year, PHP 6 on the second year and PHP 7 on the third.

“This is not an increase at all given the steady rise in basic commodities and other expenses,” Pablo said.

Pablo added that the Lapanday management did not increase the workers’ health benefits with their health management organization, nailing the amount to PHP 30,000 per employee per year.

“The management said it is losing that is why they refused to give our demands but we have data to disprove it,” added Arguilles.

Arguilles said that their demands, including other non-salary benefits, amounts only to only PHP 445, 905, which is only five percent of the estimated net earnings of the box plant at a monthly sale of PHP 90, 337.417 at the box plant alone.

Arguilles said they did not even include the earnings of the company’s plastic plant because net profit from the box plant alone shows that Lapanday has the capacity to grant their demands.

Ruffy Avellanida, who has been working in the company since 2002, shared that his starting salary back then was PHP 126.  ”My salary now is PHP 331 because of merit increases per year,” Avellanida said who explained that a “merit increase” is based on one’s productivity but which is solely determined by the management of the company.

He added that he does not know of any increase in their salaries which followed scheduled wage increases or those mandated by the Labor Department.

Job insecurity

Aside from the harassment of union members, Pablo said they are also threatened by job insecurity.

He recounted that Lapanday summarily terminated two workers who were hit by a moving machine, which resulted in the fracture of their fingers.  “While the two were already on the emergency room of the Davao Medical School Foundation Hospital, their treatment was put on hold because the company did not act immediately to guarantee their hospital fees,” Pablo said.

This incident made the workers feel insecure about their jobs and made them decide to finally form their union.

Government and labor schemes

Aside from the mediation done by the NCMB, workers have not received assistance from government institutions.

“We hope the government will look into our situation because the management is acting to deter us (from exercising our rights.),” Arguilles said.

Former Bayan Muna representative Joel Virador now of the National Federation of Labor Unions Chairperson in Southern Mindanao said that the case of the Lapanday workers is a result of the government’s inaction on anti-labor policies.

“The state of unionism in the Philippines is in peril,” said Virador, who said that laws are in place that can be used by investors to kill unions.  He cited the Herrera Law, which provides that only regular workers have the right to form and join unions.

“Investors or capitalists take advantage of this law by creating various schemes to prevent workers from having a permanent or regular status, thereby preventing them from membership in unions,” Virador said.

In the case of the Lapanday workers, Pablo said that the company’s total workforce is around 100 and 40 of them are contractual workers.

Pablo recounts that one machine operated by seven people, have six contractual and only one regular employee.

The LBPPWU is an affiliate of the Association of Democratic Labor Organizations and the Kilusang Mayo Uno.  (John Rizle L. Saligumba/ davaotoday.com)

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