Day 4 in Compostela banana firm strike, management refuses to give in

Nov. 17, 2012

“Ms. Mi Kyung Kwon (the company’s owner) will not give fringe benefits to the workers because for her, salaries are already enough” — Irwin Canalda, president of the Freshmax Workers Union

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The management of Korean-owned banana export firm Freshmax Trading Company has refused to grant the demands of its striking workers, cancelling a scheduled mediation by the labor department and further crippling its multi-million operations.

Irwin Canalda, president of the Freshmax Workers Union (FWU), told that they were supposed to meet with their employers at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board November 16 but it was cancelled, “as the management remains adamant with its offer.”

The strike stemmed from a deadlock in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, with Freshmax refusing to budge from its PHP 5 (USD 0.12) daily wage increase as counter-offer to the union’s demand of PHP 15 (USD 0.36), which was adjusted from the latter’s earlier demand of PHP 30.

The workers’ daily minimum wage at Freshmax, according to Canalda, is only 291 pesos (USD 7.08).  This is short of 496 pesos (USD 12.01) from the 787-peso (USD 19.15) family living wage in the Davao Region based on the 2008 estimates of the National Wages and Productivity Commission.

Freshmax, a company that has an estimated daily gross income of PHP 201,600, also refused to give sick leave, vacation leave, and union leave benefits and rice allowance to its workers.

“Ms. Mi Kyung Kwon (the company’s owner) will not give fringe benefits to the workers because for her, salaries are already enough,” Canalda said.

The strike has already caused an income loss for the company of USD 33,600 (PHP 1,381,130), which derives its profits from the export of at 1,200 boxes of Cavendish bananas cultivated in an estimated 130-hectare land in Compostela.

Over 200 contractual workers have also sympathized with the strike and had not shown up for work.

The union’s struggle has been uphill since it was formed July last year.  Freshmax refused to negotiate with the union, ordered union officials to stop from going to work and threatened them for a work transfer.  The firm also terminated three casual employees who had close ties with the union, and who was already working for the company for two years.

Not an isolated case

The case of workers in Freshmax is not an isolated case.

Labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno has blamed the Aquino government’s “cheap labor policy” in the increasing number of strikes and workers’ protest at the company level, across the country.

It cited the strike at the Bacolod Columbia marketing Inc. in Bacolod City “for the company’s illegal dismissal and union busting;” the strike at the Prudential Custom Brokerage Inc. in Surigao City “for the company’s refusal to increase wages and threat to rollback benefits;” and the announcement of the First Farmers Holding Corporation in Talisay, Negros Occidental “for the company’s violation of minimum wage.”

It also noted the workers’ protests in Pambato Cargo Forwarder, Inc. in Iloilo “for the retrenchment of regular workers who will be replaced by contractuals” and in Coats Manila Bay, Inc. in Marikina City “for the management’s insistence on making wage orders ‘creditable’ to the wage hike.”  The latter will be approved in the CBA.

In Davao, the workers union in Lapanday Fruits Corp.-Box and Plastic Plant are on the verge of strike with the filing of their Notice of Strike last week.

“Capitalists across the country are getting more brazen in pressing down wages in order to boost profits,” said KMU’s Elmer Labog in a statement.  He added, “That’s because the Aquino government is solidly behind them with its Cheap Labor Policy.”

Cheap Labor Policy, according to KMU, consists of the following: refusal to hike wages by a significant amount; wage cut via the Two-Tiered Wage System; Legalization of contractual employment through Department Order 18-A Series of 2011; and Various laws that make the formation of unions and the holding of strikes more difficult.

“At the company level, workers are being denied a significant wage hike, more and more contractuals are being hired, and workers’ rights to form unions and hold strikes are being attacked.  The Aquino government has approved policies that legalize these,” he added.

KMU called on all Filipino workers “to exercise their Constitutionally-mandated right to form unions,” saying, “We have to fight for our rights, which are enshrined in the Constitution but are being violated by the government and capitalists.”

It cited the 1987 Constitution’s Section 3 of Article XIII, which states that the State “shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations, and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law. They shall be entitled to security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage.”

“There’s a limit to what workers can take.  Workers are fed up and are fighting back,” Labog said.  (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/

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