“Good food, good life”— thus goes the tag line of the food giant Nestlé Philippines Inc. in its advertisements. Apparently, these words are not for the company’s own workers, as more than 300 of them continue to decry making do with “bad food” and suffering a “bad life” since they went on strike two years ago.
By DENNIS ESPADA
CABUYAO, Laguna — In this town 50 kms south of Manila, at least 300 workers and urban poor dwellers led by the militant workers alliance Pagkakaisa ng mga Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Unity of Workers in Southern Tagalog) or Pamantik stormed the gates of Nestle Philippines Incorporated (Nestlé) in Barangay (village) Niugan last Jan. 14, condemning the company for committing the worst violations of trade union rights in the region.
Contrary to its “good food, good life” image in television and print commercials, Nestlé comes into view as the bad guys as far as the workers and their families are concerned.
Luz Baculo, secretary general of Pamantik, said Nestle is responsible for recent four incidents of violent dispersals of strikes and two incidents of dismantling picket lines leaving scores of workers injured.
“In the union’s two years of strike, Nestle used goons and the Philippine National Police (PNP), including the Regional Special Action Force (RSAF), to inflict violence against the workers who were only exercising their democratic rights for their demands,” Baculo also said.
One of the strikers, Vicente Batayon, suffered a broken clavicle when a policeman struck him with a truncheon in a dispersal operation on June 3, 2002. Eighteen others were hurt. In another incident that took place on June 23 last year, the military used bladed clubs and water cannons against close to a hundred strikers and bystanders.
Forty-seven year old Emma Ylagan says the pain inflicted by Nestle on her family still hurts. Her husband Nestor, who served the company for over 20 years, died in mid-2003 of a heart attack brought on by hypertension which excessive overtime work caused. Nestor was one of the six workers who died in the course of the strike.
When Emma and her children went to the company to ask for support in their livelihood but the guards told them to leave. “Nagmamakaawa kami, di raw pupwede dahil striker nga raw siya (Nestor),” a sobbing Emma told Bulatlat.com. “Parang di sila nakinabang sa asawa ko sa matagal na panahon.”
Aside from the bloody confrontations at the picket lines, many of the workers, especially the union leaders, have experienced harassment and surveillance. Noel Alemania, vice-president of the Union of Filipro Employees (UFE), the union of Nestle workers, for one has relocated to another place after an unidentified vehicle was parking outside his house day after day.
Meanwhile, photojournalist Ferdinand Roldan of the local newspaper Newsflash reported being trailed by men in motorcycle while on his way home. He was hit at the back by a rock during a violent dispersal in 2002.
A Swiss multinational food giant, Nestle is widely-known for its milk, coffee, energy drink and other products.
Factory workers said that the Nestle management in Cabuyao has rejected to include the workers’ retirement plan in the negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) despite a ruling by the Supreme Court (SC) in 1991. In its ruling, the SC upheld the National Labor Relations Commission’s (NLRC) decision in 1989 that the retirement plan must be part of the benefits given by the company to its workers.
In the CBA negotiations held last June 2001, the Nestle management denied the retirement plan arguing that it is a unilateral grant of the company. In 2002, exactly two years ago, around 600 workers left their workplaces to go on strike while at the same time called on the public to boycott all products of Nestle.
In February last year, the Court of Appeals affirmed the SC ruling. Since then, the case was raised to, and is currently at the SC upon the appeal of both the management and union with the workers seeking SC to affirm its 1991 ruling and declare Nestle guilty of unfair labor practice.
Baculo said former Nestle CEO Juan B. Santos’ use of influence and wealth was the reason for the unwarranted delay to resolve the prolonged labor dispute as this “attracts favor from the government including Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, PNP and even, that from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”
Last week, an unsigned leaflet was circulated in the entire town, discrediting the union leaders and urging the workers to file illegal dismissal case against the management.
Alemania explained that the capitalists are desperately trying to deceive them or weaken their commitment to the strike.
“Essentially, what they want is to tie up the workers in the legal process – a process which capitalists control,” Alemania told Bulatlat.com. “In fact, 42 of the workers already succumbed to this and in the end, were themselves terminated.”
Appeals and support
In an urgent letter last December, the UFE asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to take action on the plight of the workers. The letter was also signed by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of Manila together with Bishops Julio Labayen of Infanta and Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus.
Public support to the workers, particularly in the form of a boycott campaign has swelled.
One of the staunch supporters of the workers is movie actor and DZRB radio commentator Vic Felipe who has unceasingly called on his listeners not to buy Nestle products. In December last year, Radyo Konggreso Foundation, an organization of radio listeners, sponsored a gift-giving revel for the workers and their children which aimed to strengthen their unity and commitment to the struggle until justice is attained.