Workers of the Victorias
Milling Company, Asia's largest sugar mill, are restive due to
non-implementation of their collective bargaining agreement.
PHOTOS BY KARL G. OMBION
VICTORIAS CITY –
Majority of the mill workers of the Victorias Milling Company (VMC),
Asia’s biggest sugar refinery, have voted last week to stage a strike.
In the voting, which
was supervised by official representatives of the Department of Labor and
Employment (DoLE), 774 out of 839 rank-and-file regular mill workers opted
to strike, with only 17 opposing it. Seven of the ballots were spoiled.
President of VMC Industrial Workers Association (VIWA), said that the
turn-out of their April 19 strike vote was “in gross contrast” to the
strike vote cast by VMC Supervisors Union (VSU) where it lost to the
no-strike vote by a small margin.
Dequina said that
they decided to call for a strike after the VMC management refused to
implement the wage increase stipulated in the collective bargaining
agreement (CBA) they signed three years ago.
“All the management
promised the workers was a signing bonus which we consider as nothing but
petty cash,” Dequina said.
Dequina said they had
exhausted all possible means, in a series of conciliation meetings for
months facilitated by National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), to
forge a mutually acceptable settlement with the management. VMC
management, however, simply refused to give in, he said.
VIWA officials have
been focusing on the implementation of higher wages as stipulated in their
CBA because their meager wages are not enough for their basic needs. They
say that what they receive now is “miniscule” compared to what they had
been receiving during the boom years of VMC more than a decade ago.
Since the mid-1990s,
VIWA had been in the forefront of the fight against massive retrenchment,
downsizing and spin-off as a result of VMC management financial losses and
debts due to reported mismanagement.
The company has
steadily recovered due to new investments, the introduction of various
labor flexibility schemes and anti-redundancy measures, and payment of
loans incurred with about 16 creditor-banks whose representatives are
running the company operations at the moment, said other VIWA officials.
recovery was the entry of Filipino-Chinese taipan Lucio Tan, owner of
Philippine Airlines, Fortune Tobacco, Asia Brewery, Allied Bank, sometime
in 2003 – causing him to wrest effective control of VMC. The Philippine
National Bank (PNB), which he now owns, along with other creditor-banks,
has converted the loans incurred by VMC into equity stocks.
In addition, Tan also
infused hundreds of millions of pesos into the company when it was on the
road to recovery.
VMC has also set
aside close to P1 billion ($2.1 million based on a $1:P47.64 exchange rate
as of April 20) for the continuous rehabilitation of some of its
antiquated equipments to make them more efficient and productive.
Dequina said all
indications show that VMC is no longer on the road to recovery but has in
fact fully recovered and could now afford to grant higher wages for the
Dequina added that
what hastened the workers’ decision to vote for a strike was the
management’s “non compliance and non-implementation” of most of the
provisions of their CBA.
“Without any choice,”
Dequina said, “they decided to call for strike vote, it being their
ultimate weapon to get their just demand.”
This week, VIWA
workers will start their muscle-flexing activities prior to staging the
Masses) regional chairman Allen Mirasol, aformer VMC worker, slammed the
“callousness” of the VMC management. He revealed that the VMC workforce,
currently numbering a mere 2,700 from a peak of more than 6,000 – of which
only a thousand are regulars – could be further reduced as shown by the
management’s various labor flexibility schemes and anti-worker stance.
Mirasol said saying
its move is part of its grand scheme to break the union and to consolidate
Tan’s hold over Asia’s biggest sugar milling company.
He said that the
worsening conditions of workers in VMC is also taking place in several
other sugar mills in Negros where the owners and managements are
undertaking “some level of modernization” to ensure their efficiency and
higher productivity at the expense of their workers.
in agriculture, particularly in the sugar industry, are indeed causing
massive displacements of mill and farm workers.
workers’ protests including strikes are expected as a result of these
trends,” he concluded. Bulatlat
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