“By joining federations outside of the company, we learn from workers of other companies and we are able to understand these problems.”
By JONELLE MARIN
MAKATI — The leading brands in nutrition and pharmaceutical products may have already won the trust of consumers worldwide, but behind their globally-competitive products are thousands of workers who have been working hard with meager pay, reduced benefits and whose union rights have been under attack.
The Wyeth Philippines Progressive Workers’ Union (WPPWU), for instance, has been at the receiving end of various repressive acts being perpetrated by their employer, the merged Wyeth-Pfizer Philippines. The end-goal of all these acts seem to be to decrease the number of active unionists and to make it easier for the company to sack their more critical employees.
First, they had to contend with the issue of “promotion.” One might think that being promoted to a higher position meant staying longer with the company. But this is not true for some workers in Wyeth-Pfizer. According to Ronald Sarmiento, vice president of the 53-year-old union, whenever some of their union members are promoted, they would then automatically belong to the supervisory union. But the presence of the supervisory union, which Sarmiento regards as “a management union,” hardly protects the workers’ job security.
“If some members of the supervisory union voice out job-related issues and a few demands, the management would get back at them, and the supervisory union hardly lifts a finger to defend them. Thus, workers are later forced to just submit to what the company is doing to them,” Sarmiento said.
(Photo by JONELLE MARIN / bulatlat.com)
Second, harassment also takes place when the 400-strong WPPWU stages protest actions.
Sarmiento recounted an incident where an entire crew of forty members held a noise barrage and the company retaliated by filing a case against each of them for “informal behaviour”.
Also two members of WPPWU had been sacked without due process. Accused of insubordination and dishonesty were Sonny Joseph who had been with the company for two years and Monte Graham, who had worked with Wyeth for over two decades.
Third, WPPWU has long been asking for hazard pay to cover the effects on their health of constant exposure to chemicals. But according to Sarmiento, when they proposed to include hazard pay in their collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Wyeth-Pfizer management refused, saying that whatever wage hike the workers would get should pay for their other benefits.
Other union groups in Wyeth-Pfizer have been pushing for economic benefits only, according to Sarmiento.
“The raise they have been demanding is not based on the financial capacity of the company, unlike our wage hike demand. Also, we are working for political gains, too— we want the worker’s jobs to be secure and the workers themselves to be protected from illegal termination.”
“Majority of our co-workers don’t have a house to call their own; they have kids who go to school; and they have water and electric bills to pay. We are pushing for P125 wage hike not to be rich but to get us through the day,” he said.
A minimum wage earner in the National Capital Region (NCR) earns P404/day ($9.4/day, $1=P43). A Wyeth-Pfizer worker, according to Sarmiento, earns an average of P700/day ($16.28/day). But the cost of living in the NCR is pegged at P957/day ($22.26/day) according to the government itself.
If in the merged Wyeth-Pfizer, the progressive employees’ union is “losing” its members to a company union, thus depriving the “promoted” workers with real union protection as they are forced to submit to more exploitative company rules, in another major pharmaceutical-nutritional company, the workers’ union is steadily being whittled down by outsourcing.
One of the major problems being faced by the 37-year-old Malayang Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Mead Johnson (MSMMJ) is outsourcing. In fact, to Lito Cobrado, vice president of MSMMJ, outsourcing is worse than contractualization.
As an example, Cobrado cited, “The workers who make payrolls, who are regular employees of Mead Johnson, (who) have been sacked after the company outsourced and took another company that would handle all the financial matters of Mead Johnson.”
In Mead Johnson’s packaging area alone, some 33 employees lost their jobs after Mead Johnson outsourced it to Acpak, a company said to be established by former high-ranking executives in Unilever Philippines.
Today the union counts less than 200 members, down significantly from its headcount five or ten years before. Meanwhile, the number of workers calling as employers the outsourcing agencies has been steadily increasing. Cobrado told Bulatlat.com that even though these workers are performing the same jobs that the previously better-paid, unionized workers are doing, they are receiving lower wages.
Both the union of workers in Mead Johnson and Wyeth-Pfizer have joined the Koalisyon ng Progresibong Manggagawa at Mamamayan chapter in Makati-Pasay, saying the workers in their drug firms, whether the unionized or those in the outsourced areas, could certainly do with a substantial, across-the-board wage hike.
“By joining federations outside of the company, we learn from workers of other companies and we are able to understand these problems. We are also able to explain the current situation of the work force to our co-workers in Mead Johnson,” Cobrado said.