Can the striking workers at the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) be blamed for defying the labor department’s order for them to return to work? They have been on strike since June 2 and despite the Benguet provincial government’s intervention, the resolution seems unlikely in the near future as both labor and management stick to their demands.
BY ABIGAIL T. BENGWAYAN
BAGUIO CITY — The Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) defied the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) return-to-work order issued last June 9 after the Benguet provincial government intervened in the negotiations between the union and the Lepanto management.
The order was issued by DoLE Undersecretary Manuel Imson and handed to DoLE Regional Director Jalilo dela Torre.
The strike marked its 11th day last June 12 (Independence Day) despite food and medicine blockade in the picket lines and communities within Lepanto. Management cut the water supply last June 6 but was restored three days after, union officers said.
The DoLE order deputizes the Philippine National Police (PNP) to enforce the return-to-work order. The latter gives teeth to the Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) order over the striking workers. The AJ order was issued by DoLE Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas last May 10.
LEU Auditor Ronald Maslian said that the workers have already defied the AJ order in the first place. By doing this, he explained that they have defied all other processes following DoLE’s AJ order. The union officers were issued termination notices last June 3.
In the 2003 strike, police dispersed the striking workers and two miners died in the process.
LEU President Ninian Lang-agan said that police in full battle gear were already positioned near the Nayak and Tubo picket lines.
In a separate interview, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)-Cordillera’s Nida Tundagui said that the return-to-work order deprives the workers of their right to strike, right to redress grievances and concerted action.
“Kapag sinunod ito (order), wala nang saysay ang lahat ng pinaghirapan nila. Maging ang esensya ng CBA ay mawawala na. Babalik lang sila sa dating working conditions nila, kaya tama lang na hindi nila sinunod ang return to work order dahil hindi na naman sila sumunod sa AJ order” (If they submit to the return to work order, their past efforts will have gone to naught. The essence of the CBA will be gone. They will go back to their old working conditions, so it is only right that they defy the return to work order since they defied the AJ order anyway.), she said.
Since the strike was staged on June 2, management prohibited the entry of vehicles, including tricycles and jeeps. Resident Manager Augusto Villaluna issued a June 8 memorandum ordering all vehicles entering the mine camp to ensure that “no prohibited materials or unauthorized people enter the mine camp.”
Col. Wilhelm Doromal, Security and Communications Services Department head, also released a notice to Gate No. 3 security guards ordering them not allow the entry of the LEU service vehicle until further notice.
Last May 31, two days before the strike, Doromal banned water pump operator Zaldy Negradas from transporting a half cavan of rice for his family at Barangay (village) Sapid via Tubo gate at around 5:30 p.m.
When he explained that the rice was for his family, Doromal allegedly started accusing Negradas of “harassing the security.” The security chief also said to Negradas “Nanghahamon ka ba? Naghahanap ka ba ng away?” (Are you challenging me? Are you looking for trouble?) Doromal also accused Negradas of abandonment of post, which the latter found puzzling.
Negradas filed a harassment complaint at the Sapid Barangay Hall. Around midnight last May 31, Negradas said that several men under Doromal went looking for him at their quarters near the Club House. Luckily, he went home that night.
Investors held hostage?
Lang-agan added that management accused them of holding seven Chinese investors hostage last June 7. Lang-agan denied this.
“Haan mi met isuda nga in-hostage. Immunegda idiay Tubo gate ken rumwar da kuma idiay Mill Site. Ngem idi dumanon da ditoy Mill Site ket naka-padlock ta adda picket. Nagnada metlaeng ditoy Level 900. Isunga awan ti in-hostage mi” (We did not take anyone captive. The investors entered at Tubo gate and intended to exit at Mill Site but the gate was locked due to the picket line. They eventually exited through Level 900), he explained.
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)-Cordillera Spokesperson James Tulipa added that the investors sought clearance from the picket line command at Tubo gate before entering.
Tulipa himself was accused by management of instigating the strike together with Art Malicdan of the Cordillera Labor Center (CLC). Tulipa added that management called the DoLE regional office and accused the striking workers of holding the investors captive.
CBA still deadlocked
Meanwhile, the negotiations mediated by the Benguet province officials resulted in a deadlock.
Gov. Borromeo Melchor and DoLE’s Dela Torre proposed a salary increase of P25, P29 and P29 ($0.45, $0.52 and $0.52, based on an exchange rate of P55.20 per U.S. dollar) for the first, second and third year of the CBA’s effectivity. On the other hand, the management, represented by lawyer Weldy Manlong, stuck to their P21-P27-P29 ($0.38, $0.49 and $0.52) proposal.
Originally, the union’s proposal was P29-P29-P33 ($0.52, $0.52 and $0.60) for the wage increase. Benefits raised in the negotiations include housing allowance, separation pay and rest day. During the first round of negotiations last Feb. 18, the union proposed P100-P100-P100 ($1.81-$1.81-$1.81) while management proposed P0-P10-P11 ($0-$0.18-$0.20). Bulatlat