After their strike was declared “illegal” by the labor department, mill workers at the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita face mass lay-off. The workers have vowed to defy the DoLE order and to maintain their two-month long strike.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Still hurting from the gunshot wound he sustained when police and military forces tried to break up their strike on Nov. 16 last year, Ferdinand Aquino, 38, continues to help man their two-month old picket line at Gate 2 of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) – the sugar central of the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita, 120 kms north of Manila.
“Hindi kami babalik sa trabaho” (We’re not going back to work), he told Bulatlat in a phone interview after learning that Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) declared on Jan. 14 that their strike was illegal.
Speaking for his co-workers, Aquino, an operator of the Distillery Department of the CAT, said they would continue to hold their strike despite the labor department’s order for them to go back to work within five days.
CAT Labor Union (CATLU) president Ricardo Ramos, in a separate interview Jan. 15, confirmed Aquino’s reaction adding that their union counsel will file a motion for reconsideration to the labor secretary’s ruling on Jan. 17.
Sto. Tomas’ order paved the way for the dismissal of the 35 officers of the CATLU. The union officers were also chided by the labor secretary for misleading union members on the legality of the work stoppage.
If that happens, warned CAT counsel Adison Castro in a separate phone interview over the weekend, the Hacienda Luisita management will terminate union members and hire new laborers.
“If they do not report for work, they are deemed to have abandoned their employment,” Castro said. “So I hope the workers will comply with the law.”
Reacting to Castro’s threat, Ramos said the imminent mass lay-off would just lead to further violence at the picket line. “Dadanak lang ulit ang dugo” (Blood will spill), he said.
FIGHT GOES ON: Sugar central union president Ricardo Ramos.
Photo by Dabet Castañeda
Nenita Mahinay, counsel for both CATLU and the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), called the labor secretary’s order as union-busting. The DoLE’s dismissal of the CATLU officers is tantamount to union-busting, she said, adding that without them the rest of the union members cannot protect themselves from management repression.
“Parang langaw na lang silang pipitikin ng management dahil wala na (ang lakas) ng unyon” (They will be like flies who will be crashed to death), said Mahinay, who is from Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center.
The CATLU went on strike simultaneously with the strike mounted by ULWU – the plantation workers’ union – on Nov. 6 last year after their separate Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations bogged down.
About 500 of the 768 union members took part in the CATLU strike.
Ruling the strike illegal, Sto. Tomas said the CATLU did not comply with the 30-day cooling-off period and the strike vote.
In her 10-page resolution, Sto. Tomas ordered the CAT management to pay its workers their unpaid salaries based on complaints that they have not received their 13th month bonus and for the 21 days they had worked for before going on strike.
The labor secretary also approved a P15-wage increase to be given this year and another P15 next year. But Mahinay said the increase was even lower than last year’s CBA that gave the workers a one-time-pay of P48. The workers are demanding a P100 increase per day.
DoLE also approved a one-time lump sum of P12,500 as against the union’s demand for a two-month gratuity pay as retirement benefit. No ruling was made on the P30,000 signing bonus sought by the workers even if the management initially offered P12,500.
Joel Maglunsod, secretary general of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU – May 1st Movement) said the DoLE decision is just part of the scheme to gloss over the massacre that took place in the picket line on Nov. 16.
In the first place, Maglunsod said, the violent strike dispersal could not have happened had the DoLE tried to settle the labor dispute even before the strike could start. The labor department added heat to the labor row when it assumed jurisdiction (AJ) on the case and deputized police and military personnel to enforce its order.
At least seven died and scores were wounded when Sto. Tomas’ directive was enforced on Nov. 16. Another peasant leader, Marcelino Beltran, was also shot to death by suspected military men on the night of Dec. 8 in Tarlac City.
With the turn of events, Maglunsod renewed militant labor’s call for the nullification of the AJ and the immediate ouster of Sto. Tomas as labor secretary.
“Ang AJ ay ginagawang lisensya ng DoLE para supilin ang mga lehitimong pakikipaglaban ng mga manggagawa”(DoLE is using the AJ as license to suppress the legitimate struggles of workers), he said.
Documentation by the church-based Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) showed that since 2001, 85 of 132 incidents of strike dispersals by company guards, police and military personnel were directly connected to the AJ.
The DoLE has not acted on the labor dispute between the sugar farm workers under ULWU and the Hacienda Luisista, Inc. (HLI). The case is set to be heard on Jan. 18 and 20 at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) at the DoLE-Region III office in San Fernando, Pampanga. Bulatlat.com