DAVAO CITY, Philippines — More than 250 workers of a multinational exporter of cavendish bananas in Pantukan, Compostela Valley launched a labor strike Tuesday to protest the summary dismissal of two of its union officers.
Musahamat Workers Labor Union, an affiliate of the National Federation of Labor Unions and militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, led the strike that stopped the operations of a 182-hectare banana plantation in Pantukan.
The company terminated on March 9 Dionisio Gultia and Marlo Alfonso, both members of the union’s board of directors who refused to comply the firm’s order to transfer from field work to packing plant operations.
Espiridion Cabaltera, union president of the MWLU, said the two were notified verbally of their impending transfers on Jan. 19 but were served official memorandum only two days later, after the union served a notice of grievance.
“What the management wants is to concentrate all union officers within the packing plant so that we lose ground with respect to our members in the field. In fact, this is the second time that management transferred union officers from field operations into the packing plant,” Cabaltera said in a statement.
In a phone interview, Cabaltera told Davao Today that this has been a recurring problem for the workers, who have seen three of their leaders — himself included– transferred to a different division. Cabaltera said this amounted to “union-busting as it jeopardized the integrity of the union,” as it would prevent the union’s officials to organize their members.
“Asa pa man namo ilabay among mga problema nga gitapok man mi nila sa isa ka lugar. Unsaon na lang namo pagpaabot sa among mga myembro?” (To whom will [our members] relay their concerns when [the company] has put us officers all in one place? How will we leaders meet with our members?), Cabaltera said.
Last year, MWLU mounted protest actions against the firm’s “union-busting” and “consecutive illegal dismissals.” According to a report of the Unyon ng mga mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), 19 of MWLU members were placed under a 30-day suspension which occurred merely days after the union won the certification election in February 22, 2016. Before the incidents, the union also complained of harassment by the Philippine Army’s 46thInfantry Battalion which “maliciously” tagged the union as connected with the New People’s Army.
Too much workload
Cabaltera also lamented the company’s new gardening system, which put one worker in charge of 3 hectares of land. Cabaltera said this new system put too much workload on a single worker’s back and has resulted into the hospitalization of some union members.
“Dili naka makapahuway halos niana. Daghan ta ug mga edaran na diha, nga ga surrender jud sila” (You’ll have little to no time for rest. We have many older workers who have surrendered), Cabaltera said.
Musahamat Farms Inc., a subsidiary of Kuwait-based Sabel International Group W.LL, was established in the country in 2008.(davaotoday.com)