Export Processing Zone Workers Victims of Unfair Labor Practices

In addition, some factories require the laborers to work beyond the regular working hours. Aling Rina (not her real name), a worker in Chong Won, said she had to work up to 48 hours nonstop to reach a daily quota of 1,500 to 5,500 pieces of clothing articles.

Aling Rina added that they are not allowed to eat, drink or use the toilet during working hours or even during overtime. Thus, urinary tract infection, usually caused by irregular urination, is common, as well as respiratory problems. Two of her co-workers even died — one due to over-exhaustion and another due to asthma attacks.

To combat these unfair labor practices, the workers formed unions that will represent them in collective bargaining agreements: Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Chong Won (NMCW or United Workers of Chong Won) and Kaisahan ng Manggagawa sa Phils-Jeon, Inc. (KMPJI or Unity of Workers of Phils-Jeon). Their employers retaliated by forming a union of their own and by refusing to hold a certification election, thereby obstructing the process of recognition of the two unions.

According to Antonio Tujan, Jr., Executive Director of IBON Foundation, the formation of unions is discouraged by TNCs since bargaining agreements tend to raise wages and prevent the extension of working hours. Unions also facilitate the organization of strikes and protest actions.

Ruling violence

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Medium Term Development Plan for 2004-2010 equates harmonious labor relations with fewer strikes and more settlements or voluntary arbitration. Thus, some factories inside CEZ employ an unwritten ‘No Union, No Strike’ Policy. The workers who take part in unions are illegally terminated or, as in Aling Rina’s case, given more difficult jobs. From being a sewer, she became a trimmer who had to remain standing while she worked. She was also moved to a place with little ventilation, along with some of her co-workers who are active in NMCW.

“On the government’s part, the main device used to prevent strikes is what is called the assumption of jurisdiction (AJ),“ KMU spokesperson Prestoline Suyat said. “The government uses the AJ to stop strikes instead of investigating what triggered these. In the end, the disputes are resolved in a manner that favors the capitalists.”

NMCW and KMPJI launched their strikes simultaneously on September 25 last year. Two days after, KMPJI members were violently dispersed by PEZA’s Jantro Guards, and the CEZ police, injuring 13 workers. Last June 10 to 11, NMCW members were harassed by men wearing ski masks. “Ang nakapagtataka, mahigpit ang checkpoint noon sa CEZ, paano sila nakapasok?” (What is strange is that with the strict checkpoint at CEZ, how could they have entered?) asked Aling Norma.

Meanwhile, the violent dispersal of workers remained uninvestigated. The strikers were even sued by the management for slight physical injuries supposedly inflicted on the group that dispersed them.

Continuous struggle

After having been dispersed repeatedly and violently, the workers, including Aling Norma and Aling Rina, were forced to abandon their picket lines. The issues have now been brought to the courts: various cases have been filed against the managements of Phils-Jeon and Chong Won, including unfair labor practice, forced leave, illegal termination, slight physical injury, and grave threats. Chong Won has filed a declaration of bankruptcy in a trial court in Imus, Cavite. Phils- Jeon is still in operation.

Phils-Jeon and Chong Won are not the only companies guilty of unfair labor practices. Electronic factories, for instance, use chemicals hazardous to health without the knowledge of the workers. The effects of these chemicals vary from allergies to more serious cases of tuberculosis and cancer. In another case, a union leader of a CEZ factory was nearly killed in an ambush. There are also many cases of accidents due to lax safety precautions.

At present, CEZ workers continue their struggle not only against their employers, but also against anti-labor policies and directives issued by the government. For as long as the government favors these companies, the workers inside SEZs are left with no choice but to battle mechanisms which deny them their rights. Philippine Collegian / Posted by Bulatlat

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