Contractual Workers Stage Strike in Laguna Industrial Hub

Two hundred contractual workers of the Korean-owned Hanjin Garments, Inc. staged their first strike. But the police tried to violently disperse their picket line three times, the most recent attempt was last February 6, which resulted in injuries to more than 30 workers and the arrest of four leaders and supporters.

Vol. VIII, No. 2, February 10-16, 2008

CABUYAO, Laguna (50 kms. South of Manila)– Having spent 13 days in the picket line, Amelia Capistrano, 25 years old and a worker of Hanjin Garments looks worn-out and bruised. Her left foot has a sprain, her legs and arms are swollen.

Amelia, is one of the 200 contractual workers staging a strike against the Korean-owned Hanjin Garments, Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna’s industrial hub. An hour before this interview, Amelia was one of the 16 picketers injured when police from the Laguna Industrial Park Police Action Group (LIPPAG) dispersed the striking workers for the third time since the strike erupted Jan. 24.

Arrested during the dispersal operations in the morning of February 6 were Amelia’s husband Christopher, 26 years old, other Hanjin workers Erica Lee Balane and Edison Alpiedam and Sensuous Lingerie, Inc. worker Gerald Daria who was there to show his support to the striking workers.

The four were charged with direct assault and physical injuries for allegedly hurting at least five policemen during the tussle between the police and the strikers.

Whisked away

While Balane and Alpiedam were left inside the Cabuyao police station, policemen whisked away Christopher and Daria using a Hanjin vehicle (a Toyota Revo) with plate number XBX 131 at around 6 p.m. of Feb.6. The two were to be brought to the Biñan Regional Trial Court (RTC) to undergo inquest proceedings. When the vehicle carrying the two passed by the striking workers who were keeping vigil outside the Cabuyao police station, it was blocked by the workers and another scuffle ensured.

During the scuffle, two others were arrested – Randy Evangelista of the party-list group Anakpawis (toiling masses) and Arnold Cerdo, another worker of Sensuous Lingerie, Inc.

But the vehicle was able to proceed; the two who were arrested were released without charges two hours later.

Mental torture

Christopher, Daria, Balane and Alpiedam were released in the afternoon of Feb. 7 after posting bail. Christopher, however, said in a statement that he and Daria had been mentally tortured during their overnight detention.

Christopher, vice chair of the striking workers independent union, Aniban ng Manggagawang Inaapi sa Hanjin Garments (AMIHAN or Organization of Oppressed Workers of Hanjin Garments), said they were handcuffed when they reached the Biñan RTC.

“Immediately after reaching the court, which was still closed when we arrived, the policeman guarding me who was armed with an M16 assault rifle ordered me to run,” he said.

“I did not run. I am not a criminal and I knew that if I ran I would be shot at the back,” Christopher said.

The two were then brought back to the Cabuyao police station.

“We felt fear all throughout our ordeal,” Christopher continued. He said they did not know where they were being taken. “We passed by some dark and unknown places. I could only close my eyes and think of my family and co-workers. We feared for the worse,” Christopher said.

Legitimate struggle

Hanjin workers decided to conduct a strike when 200 from their ranks were forced to sign an “end contract agreement” by the Hanjin management. They were given their end of contract notices on Jan. 14.

The workers’ independent union then filed a notice of strike Jan 18 at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB-Region IV-A).
Aside from their demand to be regularized, Hanjin workers also complained of poor working conditions, non-payment of leave benefits, and irregular remittances of their SSS and Pag-Ibig contributions.

Hanjin produces and exports blazers, cocktail dresses, and pants, including branded Mossimo teen pants and shorts to the U.S..
Korean nationals Jeong Kee Min and Mak Rae Min own Hanjin Garments, which employs more than 1,000 workers, all whom are contractual.

The union vice-chair said sewers who have been in the company for five months to one year receive only a P160 ($3.93 at an exchange rate of $1=P40.70) daily wage, while those who have been working for one year and above receive P260 ($6.38) a day.

The Regional Wage Board set the mandated minimum daily wage in Cabuyao at P282 ($6.92).

“They fired us for the mere suspicion and simple reason that we are trying to form a union,” said Christopher.

“Panahon na para ipaglaban namin ang aming karapatan upang maging regular na manggagawa. Mula nang mag-operate ang Hanjin, labindalawang taon namin tiniis ang pagiging kontraktwal. Kung kaya, wala kaming ibang nakikitang solusyon dito kundi ang mag-unyon at ipaglaban ang aming makatwirang interes. (It’s high time that we fight for our rights to become regular workers. We bore the brunt of being contractual workers for 12 years, ever since the company started operations. It is in this situation that we see no other solution but to unionize and fight for our legitimate interests.),” Christopher said in a statement.(

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