Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VII, No. 11      April 22- 28, 2007      Quezon City, Philippines











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Workers in Asia’s Biggest Sugar Mill Vote to Strike

The worsening conditions of workers in Victorias Milling Company (VMC) is also taking place in several other sugar mills in Negros where the owners and management are undertaking “some level of modernization” to ensure their efficiency and higher productivity at the expense of their workers.


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.

Jonathan Dequina, 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.

Fast-tracking the 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 workers.

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 strike.

More struggles ahead

Anakpawis (Toiling 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.

Neoliberal policies in agriculture, particularly in the sugar industry, are indeed causing massive displacements of mill and farm workers.

“Consequently, more workers’ protests including strikes are expected as a result of these trends,” he concluded. Bulatlat 




© 2007 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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