Hacienda Luisita Strike: Almost Over?

The two unions in Hacienda Luisita are on the verge of signing their respective agreements with management which may finally end the most controversial strike in the nation’s history.

By Abner Bolos

The two unions in Hacienda Luisita are on the verge of signing their respective agreements with management which may finally end the most controversial strike in the nation’s history.

In last ditch negotiations between management and United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) officers and lawyers held last Nov. 25, company representative Ernesto Teopaco agreed to reinstate all the striking union officers, pay all the wages and benefits due to the workers and allow the union to harvest and collect some P30 million worth of sugar cane.

The ULWU is the union of cane workers of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), the 4,443-ha. sugar plantation within the hacienda.

The agreement with ULWU came in the heels of an earlier agreement (link with the related article) with the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), the sugar mill workers’ union forged with management in October. Both parties have agreed that an agreement with the two unions will have to be reached before the strike can be declared resolved.

“The strike will be declared over and the barricades at the sugar mill gates will be lifted once the MOA (memorandum of agreement) between management and the farm workers and the sugar mill workers unions have been signed,” ULWU president Rene Galang told Bulatlat.

Management and the unions “will iron out the final drafts of the agreements and signing may take place within two weeks if management fulfils specific conditions,” according to lawyer Nenita Mahinay, counsel for both unions.

The two unions in the 6,000-hectare sugar estate owned by the family of former president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino struck simultaneously in Nov. 6 last year after management terminated 326 ULWU officers and members and CATLU reached a deadlock in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations.

The unions claim that 13 strikers and their supporters have so far died in killings (link to stories) they blame on the Cojuangco family and the military. The strike, which has been described as the most bloody and controversial strike in history, pitted one of the country’s most powerful political clan against the 5,000-strong farm workers’ union and the 700-strong sugar mill workers’ union.


The terms of the agreement was based on a seven-point proposal presented by the union and include the following;

* All wages and benefits due to the permanent, seasonal and casual (master list) workers from the expiration of the CBA in July last year will be paid upon the signing of the MOA between ULWU and management
* 15 terminated permanent workers will each receive a retirement package and will be re-hired as seasonal workers with full wages and benefits. Thirty seven terminated seasonal workers will be rehired with full wages and benefits. (The 52 workers are part of the 326 workers terminated last year. The rest have opted for voluntary retirement.)
* ULWU, with its present set of officers will remain as the workers’ bargaining agent. Fifteen union officials will receive regular pay while doing full-time union work
* The plantation workers will retain all their rights as stock holders of the corporation
* ULWU will manage the harvest of the remaining sugar cane in the plantation and will receive about P30 million in proceeds
* Financial assistance for crop production assistance will be given to each of the ULWU chapters in the 10 barangays in the hacienda
* A new CBA and a work program for the plantation will be finalized after the signing of the agreement

The agreement was reached during the third meeting between management and ULWU officers after the killing of CATLU president Ricardo Ramos Oct. 20. It was held in a church compound in Caloocan City in the afternoon of Nov. 25.
Mill workers

The CATLU agreement, on the other hand, include payment of all wages and benefits retroactive from July 1, 2004, a P15 daily wage increase and a P13,000 one-time signing bonus. It also provides for the reinstatement of the 33 union officers terminated in the course of the strike.

Workers from both unions expect to receive about P50 million in unpaid wages and benefits.

CATLU will sign an agreement for a new CBA while ULWU will sign an agreement to resolve the immediate issues and as a preparatory step for the signing of a new CBA.

The negotiations continued despite numerous complaints from union members of illegal arrests and harassment allegedly by soldiers who have been deployed in the hacienda since March.

“If finalized, the agreement and the lifting of the strike will be a victory for the workers,” explained Romeo Zarate, a member of the CATLU board of directors.

“While the economic demands were less than what we demanded, all the terminated workers will be reinstated and our unions will continue to exist to safeguard our rights,” Zarate said.

Adjustment period

While the sugar mill operations can resume operations right away, plantation operations will take longer to normalize, according to Teopaco.

Teopaco, 70, brokered negotiations for both unions after talks bogged-down several times last year and in February this year. He served as the vice president of the Tarlac Development Corp and is the husband of one the Cojuangco siblings.

“The company has been severely hit by what happened. Like a baby that is beginning to learn to walk, we have to pass through a very difficult adjustment period,” Teopaco explained to workers during the negotiations.

The company has repeatedly declared that it does not have capital to resume operations in the hacienda and has been looking for potential investors.

Teopaco said that the earliest the plantation can resume operations may be in February or as late as June next year.

While the announcement raised concerns about the work delay especially among the master list workers, the unions plan to continue planting food crops to tide them over during the adjustment period.

Union officials say the cultivation of food crops, the proceeds from the sugar harvest and the payment of money claims will help the workers’ survive once the strike ends.

Still under SDO

The union agreed to have the plantation operate temporarily under the Stock Distribution Plan (SDP), an option under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that allows landlords to operate their landholdings like a corporation. In this scheme, the farm-worker beneficiaries are given stocks instead of actual land parcels.

Galang, however, said that as beneficiaries, they will still pursue their struggle for actual land distribution. In fact, he attributes the advance of their struggle for land to their one-year old strike.

Acting on their petition to scrap the HLI’s SDP, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has recommended the SDP cancellation.

The final decision on the scrapping of the SDO will be handed out by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), the highest governing body of the government’s agrarian reform program, which is under the office of the president. (Bulatlat.com)

Share This Post