DAVAO CITY – “We had no choice but to fight back since the company was making us work like carabaos.”

Thus, said Vernecita Labra, 52, union director of the United Pantaron Banana Workers Union (UPBWU).

Labra said “many were apprehensive in forming the union, much more when we decided to mount a strike to demand for the unpaid one year overtime pay.”

“But we trusted each other because we have worked together for over a decade already. We were united,” she said.

UPBWU packing-plant workers refused to do overtime starting April 17, prompting their employer banana company Nader & Ebrahim S/O Hassan Philippines, Inc. (NEH), to refuse them entry the next day.

Union members from the field stopped work.

The Association of Democratic Labor Organizations – Kilusang Mayo Uno (First May Movement) called the UPBWU strike last month “one of the fastest strikes in Mindanao.”

Organizers said the company was forced to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with their representatives, facilitated by the National Mediation and Conciliation Board.

Labra said they “were made to work from 7am to 7pm, or four hours above the eight-hour mandated work time, but we were not paid for those extra hours.”

“When we decided to form the union to demand for the overtime pay, we also started to learn of labor laws, labor rights,” she said.

“During the first day of the strike, many of us feared of what the management might do but when the field workers joined our strike, we became stronger,” she said.

During the International Labor Day protest here in Davao, Labra and her colleagues participated “to extend the same expression of unity to other workers with whom we share struggles.”

“We hope other workers would trust each other, their unity and form their unions. Without a union, the workers have nothing,” she said.

“The violation of labor standards and labor rights are two major issues out of many that workers find common in workplaces couple with state policies,” said Labra.

The protest, attended by over three thousand people, according to KMU, made “Pnoy (President Benigno Aquino) Resign” as its banner call.

“Workers and the Filipino people are already fed-up with how the Aquino government treats us,” said Carlo Olalo, spokesperson of KMU in Southern Mindanao.

He said “the labor department just turns a blind eye over abuses in the workplace and cannot protect workers like what happened in the retrenchment of almost 300 workers of giant TV network GMA 7.”

KMU with leaders of different labor unions in the Davao Region burned an effigy of Aquino seating on an Army tank to cap their program.(davaotoday.com)

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