The mine workers’ strike at Lepanto’s Mankayan mines is on its third week but negotiations between company and the strikers on wage increases are on a deadlock.
By Abi T. Bengwayan
MANKAYAN, Benguet – Going on its third week of strike, the Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) refuses to back down even with Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas’ decision pegging the general wage increase at P25-P27-P29. The workers’ demand for benefits, meanwhile, is at a standstill except for the P10 increase in housing allowance as specified by DoLE.
The LEU remains steadfast in its call for a P29-P29-P33 wage increase, benefits, and the reinstatement of terminated union officers.
“Daytoy a desisyon ket saan a mangsungbat kadagiti rason nu apay a napan kami nagstrike, saan a nakabatay iti pudno a pangkasapulan mi a mangmangged nudiket pabor daytoy iti kumpanya” (This [DoLE] decision does not resolve our demands. In essence, it favors the mining company), LEU President Ninian Lang-agan said June 16
He added that the union remains firm in its decision to go on strike.
Company management said it could only afford a P21-P27-P29 wage hike because it is not earning. Workers to refute this, saying that although Lepanto has the means to expand its operations it refuses to increase workers’ wages.
Union and management representatives met on June 16 in the afternoon upon the latter’s request to negotiate, but the workers stood their ground.
Lang-agan called on his fellow workers to intensify their strike for just wages and benefits.
“Tiempo na itatta, daytoy dawdawten tayo a nayon a ganar. Ket patibkeren tayo garud daytoy a laban ta ammo tayo daytoy dawdawaten tayo” (This is the time for our call for just wages and benefits. But we should be more determined to push for our demand because it is just), Lang-agan said before the miners at the picketlines.
Lang-agan said that the company is doing everything it can to break the union’s solidarity.
“Ar-aramiden da amin tapno mangburak ti panagkaykaysa tayo. Saan tayo koma nga agpa-allilaw kadagiti alok ti kumpanya” (The company is so desperate that it has resorted to breaking up our unity. But let us not allow this. Let us not be deceived), he told the LEU membership.
Tony Baggay of Kilusang Mayo Uno – May 1st Movement)-Cordillera said that company management is using union busting when it terminated union officers and still pushed with its counter proposals. He added that Sto. Tomas’ pronouncement is futile when it did not say anything about reinstating the officers.
“Saan met laeng a nakasurat ditoy desisyon nga awan koma ar-aramiden ti kumpanya a retaliation kas ti panagikkat kadagiti nagstrike a mangmangged no malpas ti welga ket agsubli kami iti trabaho” (It was not stated in this decision that the company will not retaliate by dismissing workers who participated in the strike upon returning to work), Lag-agan added.
Miners expressed disgust with the labor secretary’s decision since it was very close to the company’s proposal.
“Kunak man sumensentro ti DoLE ditoy a gusot. Apay ngay nga isuda ket maka-kumpanya?” (Why does the DoLE seem to be on the company’s side?), a miner at the Nayak picketline asked.
KMU-Cordillera spokesperson James Tulipa criticized Sto. Tomas’ decision, adding that countless workers suffered due to her anti-worker decisions. Tulipa cited the Hacienda Luisita massacre on Nov. 16 last year where brutal dispersals caused the death of several workers due Sto. Tomas’ Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) order.
Nordis also learned from the workers that management has been going around convincing workers with records of absences without leave to report to work. Otherwise, such records would allegedly be used against them.
Workers also condemned company management for using the miners’ children to weaken their determination to pursue the strike. On June 16, company staff members delivered drawings of students from the Lepanto High School and Lepanto Elementary School to picketers at the Tubo gate. The drawings depicted the children’s ambitions, including essays regarding their fathers as heroes.
The striking workers described the drawings and essays as part of the company psywar to weaken their determination to strike.
On June 16, company representatives attempted to open the Tubo gate, but the workers did not allow this.
Just and equitable?
According to DoLE, the mining industry was in a slump for the past 20 years due to “depressed commodity prices,” including “political turmoil, and nationalistic policies”. These factors consequently led to the foreign investors’ lack of interest in the local mining industry, Sto. Tomas said in her decision.
Yet, independent research group IBON Foundation reports that gold, as a commodity, reacts inversely to crisis such that in cases of global economic recession, the demand for gold increases, and similarly in instances of wars and currency turmoil. IBON clarifies that gold is the traditional store of value such that investors buy golf when prospects of other assets are at risk.
Sto. Tomas’s order further states that the company has plunged into a negative P12.735 million in 2003. Yet, the KMU-Cordillera reports that the company raked in retained earnings amounting P2.573 billion in 2003.
LEU auditor Ronald Maslian questioned the company’s incapacity to grant reasonable wages when it could go expanding its operations, such as the three recent Applications for Financial and Technical Assistance (AFTA). These AFTAs covering 77,549 hectares in Benguet (AFTA 024); 81,000 hectares in Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet (AFTA 025), and another 81,000 hectares in Ilocos Sur and Abra (AFTA 026). AFTAs 025 and 026 were applied for under Shipside Incorporated and DDCP, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Workers have been preparing for possible dispersal since the DoLE’s return-to-work order on June 9. Violent dispersal swept the Mill Site picketline in the 2003 strike, where two miners succumbed to cardiac arrest. Maslian recalled then that the women were not spared when they were also dragged and hit by local police who implemented the return to work order. (With a report from Aldwin Quitasol / Posted by Bulatlat)