Banana Plantation Workers Struggle to Save Jobs

Sep. 13, 2006

One of the biggest banana companies in Mindanao recently fired 196 workers. The welfare of their families on the line, the aggrieved workers decided to take to the streets. Theyre still there.

FBAC workers picket the AMS offices. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

By Alberto P. Egot Jr.

DAVAO CITY — “Trabaho ipadayon, dili separation pay!” At daytime, the red flag bearing these words is waved high, to call attention and action. But when evening comes, this piece of cloth keeps the weary backs of workers from the cold and damp.

Just outside the offices of the AMS Group of Companies along F. Torres Street, on a strip of a roadside dirtpath, workers of a banana plantation in Compostela town, Compostela Valley, have been staying 24 hours a day for more than a week now.

FBAC workers man the picketlines. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)Unmindful of the stench from the gutter and the mosquitoes at night, many of these workers lie down on the red flag to regain the strength they need for the next day. They are on strike against the company, the Japanese transnational Sumitomo Fruits Corporation-AJMR, one of the biggest agriculture and fruit companies in Mindanao. It owns Fresh Bananas Agricultural Corporation (FBAC).

The 196 workers on strike used to work at FBACs Packing Plant 95 but were terminated by the company unjustly, they said — on Aug. 12. They called a strike on Aug. 18 but this was quashed by the company, which managed to wangle a temporary restraining order from the Regional Trial Court here in Davao City.

The company, according to the workers, ignored their pleas for reinstatement and instead told them to apply for work at another company, the Eaststar Agricultural Development Corporation, which would mean that the workers would have to be hired as contractual workers. It would mean starting their lives all over again.

“We are here now and this struggle is for a purpose — to give back to the workers their jobs which were unduly taken from them,” Joel Cuyos told at the picketline one day last week. Cuyos is the chairman of the union, the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa San Jose (Namasan).

Cuyos said the notice of termination handed down last month by the company to 196 workers of the plantation all union members — was an act of grave injustice. It would spell economic doom for the workers at the plantation, he said.

Cuyos accused the company of engaging in unfair labor practice such as mass retrenchment, illegal lockout and union busting.

Cuyos said the temporary restraining order was just one of the many ways the company used to render the workers powerless. He said holding street protests is a right accorded to them by the Constitution.

Sharing a meal, united in their struggle. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)“They may have shoved an amount of separation pay unto us but that amount is utterly unjust and does not compensate for all the toil we shed for the company,” Cuyos said.

Exposure to the heat and the rain at the picketline means almost nothing to the workers now, if only to confront the company with their demands and let the people understand.

Besides, Cuyos said, “we were even working under a rain of chemicals in the plantation without proper benefits — would the heat and cold matter now?”

We will stay here for as long as we can to make the people understand that this company has caused us injustice and we are fighting for what is due us,” he added.

The members of the union had to leave their homes to risk it out in the busy streets of the city if only to confront the company with their demands. The workers at the picketline try to make do — they pool together whatever money they can gather to buy what they need: iced water, bread, rice and ginamos or fermented anchovy.

Meanwhile, the company said the workers demand was a matter that was already dealt with by the courts.

But Cuyos accused the company of callousness and arrogance. “They are just playing deaf, he said. But no one can stop us from this. We are fighting, after all, for lives these unscrupulous capitalists are taking from us.”

The Kilusang Mayo Uno in Southern Mindanao, to which Namasan is affiliated, is supporting the workers and has called for their reinstatement. It is clear, the KMU said last week, that the company was using all its resources and means to circumvent the laws in order to evade its responsibilities to the workers.

The strike, it added, is legitimate and just because it is their fount of living that is put in the line.

The KMU, meanwhile, decried what it called the prevailing dummy system and the flexibilization of labor in corporate banana farms of the province.

KMU has documented the various forms and schemes of the company to make labor in banana plantations and packing plants flexible for the needs of imperialist firms, including the use of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to harass and intimidate the workers by burning their streamers and holding meetings with the workers inside the packing plant to tell them not to participate in the union, it said. (Alberto P. Egot Jr./

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