Hacienda Luisita: Poorly Paid Workers Lose Jobs — and Homes, Too

Profit losses

Justifying the recent mass retrenchment, management claims that it was due to big profit losses and company expenses the bulk of which was wages incurred in 2003. But a study by the independent research and think tank institute, Ibon Foundation, reveals that management bloated its figures in order to justify the retrenchment plan. Wages represent only 26 percent of company expenses based on actual number of man-days worked last year, Ibon said.

Based on the management commitment in the SDO as stated by Chavez, Galang said any retrenchment or forced retirement is a violation of the MoA.

But in an interview with Bulatlat, lawyer Vigor Mendoza, HLI vice-president for external affairs, said that to the contrary a retired or retrenched farm worker beneficiary continues to keep the shares he or she has accumulated through the number of years of employment at HLI. He clarified however that although the worker will not receive any more shares in future distributions he would continue to get the annual three percent share on the company’s gross sales.

As regards the dividends, HLI Vice-President Mendoza said a retired or retrenched farm worker would be given his share of the dividends in the future, if the company declares any. He admitted though that the company has not distributed dividends in the past 15 years due to financial losses.

He also said that a retired or retrenched farm worker automatically loses his or her right to any of the company benefits including medical, educational, sugar and rice loans.

Mendoza also said that since 1994 when the Philippines’ trade was further liberalized sugar imports increased resulting in production streamlining at the HLI. Mendoza said that although the Luisita sugar plantation only needs about 250,000 workdays a year for its operations, management agreed to guarantee 423,000 man-days every year based on the CBA of July 1993. HLI management actually gives around 620,000 man days a year, he also said.

There are three worker classifications in HLI: the permanent who gets six man-days a week and takes home P 5,800 a month; the seasonal who gets one to two working days a week at P194.50 a day during off-season but are considered as permanent during milling season; and the casual master list workers with one to two man-days a week, P194.50 a day.

A sugar farm worker, Perfecto Versola of Barangay Balete, attests to the fact that contrary to Mendoza’s claim he has not received his share of the three percent gross sales of the company since his retirement in 1998. Versola’s statement is shared by other retired or retrenched sugar farm workers who were randomly interviewed by Bulatlat.

The reason for this, Galang explains, is that the production share is based on the number of man-days worked per year. In simple terms, it is a “no work, no pay, no share” policy. But the number of man-days has consistently diminished over the past years due to the introduction of mechanization and other management alibis, the workers say.

Reduced man-days

In Bulatlat’s random interviews, a number of sugar farm workers said that before the SDO was implemented, they used to work five to six days a week. But since the HLI was incorporated in 1989, the number of workdays has gone down to only three to four days.

Similarly, a survey conducted by ULWU showed that only 341,852 man-days were allocated to the farm workers for the fiscal year 2003-2004. Translation: a minimum of 64 man-days or only P12,448 salary a year for every farm worker.

Galang further explained that the diminishing man-days are significantly affected by land use conversion and mechanization of production in the hacienda. HLI, he said, has acquired machines for farming, sprinkling, fertilizer dissemination and planting.

“While it is true that the mechanization of production makes the work faster and easier, these machines have practically replaced the sugar farm workers in the work field,” he said. During planting season, 50 sugar farm workers could work on around five hectares a day while the mechanical planter could finish 12 hectares a day with the help of only 10 sugar farm workers and one machine operator. Good for the company, bad for the workers.

As a result, Galang said, master list workers are lured into early retirement and apply as contractual workers for any of the Cojuangcos’ companies or as household help. Eventually, they lose their right to any of the company’s benefits.

In their petition to DAR for SDO revocation in Dec. 2003, the peasant alliance Ambala said that even if the Luisita estate is further reclassified into commercial and industrial land – as is now the trend – this will not dent the Cojuangcos’ dominance of the sugar industry in Central and Northern Luzon, it being the major miller of several sugar plantations.

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