BY MAUREEN A. HERMITANIO
Plan holders are up in arms over the failure of a pre-need company to give them their hard-earned money. Surprisingly, the company’s employees are now behind them in their struggle.
Employees of College Assurance Plan (CAP) are preparing for protests over a series of retrenchments, violation of their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and the company’s refusal to pay CAP plan holders’ claims.
“When the company’s liquidity problem started to get worse last year, employees worked hard to protect the interests of our fellow plan holders. As part of the company, we made sacrifices for our customers and the company. But instead of helping us survive this difficult situation, the management abandoned us. They took away our jobs, deprived us of our source of income and refused to pay our claims for the education of our children,” said Joel Domingo, president of Solidarity in CAP-Independent Union (Sicap).
Majority of the 243 employees voted in favor of a strike when their union, Sicap, held a strike vote last January 4. However, the Department of Labor and Employment issued an Assumption of Jurisdiction Order last January 13 after the union filed a notice of strike.
Even if Sicap condemned the DoLE order, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas certified the labor dispute between CAP employees and management for compulsory arbitration to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). “We fear that our case against CAP management will take longer to resolve because of DoLE’s interference in the dispute,” he said.
Domingo said that despite this development, sectors representing employees and plan holders are ready to launch protests in the coming days to seek action from CAP management and even the Arroyo administration.
According to Domingo, the employees decided to hold protests against the series of retrenchments being implemented under the company’s rehabilitation and cost-cutting program. The company laid off more than 200 employees this month affecting CAP’s Makati Head Office and branches in Tuguegarao, La Union, Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
CAP employees and plan holders raised various issues against the management, particularly the aggravating retrenchment scheme in the form of an early retirement program, voluntary separation program and mass dismissal.
Domingo appealed for public support. He said that majority of CAP employees are also education and pension plan holders themselves. “We are now forging unity with other claimants’ groups to press the CAP management to address their claims,” said Domingo
“Like CAP’s plan holders, we are suffering due to the mismanagement of the company by a handful of individuals. Most of us are plan holders, too. The company even owes us more,” he said. Domingo revealed that the CAP management owes the employees over P600,000 ($11,329.30, based on an exchange rate of P52.96 per US dollar) in unpaid union dues and death contribution benefits.
Sicap also complained of the management’s persistent attempts in union busting. Since last year, the union, in consultation with all rank-and-file employees, collectively decided to postpone negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for six months due to the company’s financial situation.
“But until now, the management refuses to negotiate for our new CBA. It seems that the company took advantage of the insolvency controversy to escape its responsibilities to us and all of CAP’s plan holders,” Domingo said.
Employees bear the brunt
The largest pre-need company is facing its worst financial problem, incurring a deficit amounting to around P17 billion ($320,996,978.85) in 2005. The union said that CAP maintains an outstanding debt of P20 million ($377,643.50) per day in unpaid claims to its plan holders alone.
“Things will get worse once the court approves the petition for rehabilitation filed by CAP,” said Domingo.
Domingo said that after the company’s liquidity problem leaked to the public in August last year, the CAP management started to lay-off regular employees and has since utilized early retirement and voluntary separation programs. In 2003, CAP employed more than 700 employees nationwide. Now the number of employees was cut down to 315.
“CAP employees were made to bear the consequences of the company’s cost-cutting and rehabilitation program. Likewise, claimants and plan holders are waiting in vain for the company to pay for their education and pension plans while the company’s profits are in safekeeping,” the labor leader said.
Sicap Secretary Michael Ophrecio said that CAP’s dilemma is not isolated. He said it is likely that employees of other pre-need firms will also face problems. He said that Prudential Life and Platinum Plans are also working on cost-cutting measures. Bulatlat.com