By MARYA SALAMAT
The management of Dole Philippines Inc. recently inked a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the workers union in Dole’s largest integrated plantation and cannery in the world. “Given the agreed upon wage increases, the Dolefil management’s years of “investments” in replacing the progressive union with a union friendlier to its interests are probably many times recouped already,” said Tony Pascual, secretary-general of National Federation of Labor Unions-Kilusang Mayo Uno (NAFLU-KMU).
The current union representing the rank-and-file workers of some 4,000 regular employees, in an integrated plantation and cannery in Mindanao that employs as much as 17,000 total workforce, was installed only last February, making the newly inked CBA one of the quickest CBAs agreed upon on record in this profitable multinational subsidiary.
The union that negotiated in the workers’ behalf has only recently won in a local election marred by various anomalies following years of incessant harassment and sabotage of the then rank-and-file workers’ union, the Amado Kadena-NAFLU-KMU, based on various reports of non-government labor institutions such as CTUHR and EILER.
In the recently inked CBA, the management and the union have agreed to a 1.7-percent wage increase for the first, second and third years. It is a far cry from the former CBA inked by the Amado Kadena with Dolefil, which stipulated a 4.5-percent increase on the first year, 5-percent on the second year, and 6-percent on the third year. Amado Kadena was also able to include, in the previous CBA, the regularization of long-time contractual workers.
Long period of arm-twisting to depose a progressive union
Based on reports compiled over the years by the KMU and non-government labor institutions supporting trade union rights, years before the February union elections this year, the officers of the Amado Kadena union had been complaining of military surveillance and harassment.
Unionists reportedly saw armed men wearing ski masks watching their union office. The surveillance intensified when they were in a fierce struggle with the American employers over the implementation of certain pro-worker provisions of their contract. The workers would also see slogans painted or pasted on roadsides accusing the union of being a “communist supporter” if not NPA members or sympathizers. They also heard some “media reports” branding them as communists.
Under the then Oplan Bantay Laya, human rights group Karapatan said being branded or accused of being a communist is tantamount to becoming prey to human rights violations ranging from surveillance, enforced disappearance, extra-judicial killings, etc.
A year before the scheduled union election at Dolefil, NAFLU-KMU’s Tony Pascual said the Dolefil management demonstrated to their employees that the union they did not approve of was practically useless. “Employees have numerous grievances, cases of suspension, termination, questions on implementation of company rules and regulations, among others, which the management refused to tackle with the Amado Kadena union officers.
Soon the Dolefil management decided to terminate the union president. Afterward, officers of the Amado Kadena alleged that Dolefil conspired with a rival minority union to depose Amado Kadena in a “bogus general assembly”. It was reportedly attended by just a third or a fourth of the union membership, but, through a combination of subsequent harassments and intimidation, Dolefil managed to compel other workers to sign the record of attendance in the said “bogus general assembly”. The company also refused to obey the regional labor department’s orders to return to “status quo” prior to the contested “bogus assembly”.
In a statement, the labor federation NAFLU-KMU suspected that the Dolefil management’s urgent reason for replacing the Amado Kadena union was so it could present a more tractable union to the international auditors flown in by SAI (Social Accountability International), where Amado Kadena and international labor advocates had a pending protest over Dolefil’s violations of freedom of association and health and safety rights of the workers.
Dolefil was given a timetable to correct at least six violations observed by SAI, an international group that certifies companies like Dolefil if they are observing a more humane working conditions in the workplace. According to CTUHR, a labor NGO, aside from violations of freedom of association, SAI had found out that Dolefil was using toxic chemicals without fully providing protection for its workers or the communities living near the plantations.
After the rival union of Amado Kadena was installed, however, workers reportedly were given a relatively better leeway as their grievances were at last entertained by the management through its approved union. It was this union who also faced the observers of SAI when they came to check if Dolefil had followed SAI’s recommendations.
As the campaign for local election heated up last February, the Dolefil the management reportedly instilled fear among the Amado Kadena’s supporters by terminating the job prospects of relatives of at least 300 regular workers and known supporters.
Thousands of contractual employees in Dolefil are working in the plantation or in canning via labor cooperatives approved or operated by Dolefil itself. Most regular workers have relatives working under a labor cooperative, said Pascual.
As if the economic threats were not enough, during the campaign period, the Dolefil management reportedly drowned out the campaign spiels of Amado Kadena by using bigger, louder speakers. When supporters of Amado Kadena complained about this at the Task Force Dolefil election composed of the contending unions, the Dolefil management, the local government and the DOLE and CHR representatives in Region 12, it responded by assigning the contending unions different days of the week for campaigning.
But the Dolefil management decided that the days allotted for Amado Kadena would be non-working days, while the days allotted for its rival union would be double-shift days. This gave the other union more opportunities to reach more workers, which they reportedly made use of with expensive, powerful blaring speakers as big as two rooms.
The Amado Kadena supporters received reports as well of vote-buying, where people approached known Amado supporters in their houses in the villages with P1,000 ($23.17) and requests not to vote for Amado Kadena.
As the election neared and soldiers set up camps near the villages where Dolefil workers live, setting up as well checkpoints to and from the street leading to the Amado Kadena union office, news also spread that some alleged NPA members had arrived with KMU chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog to campaign for Amado Kadena.
According to Tony Pascual, the disinformation additionally instilled fear among workers who avoided the meetings scheduled in the villages by Amado Kadena for fear that the swarming military would also accuse them of harboring NPAs.
And then during the entire duration of counting of election results, Pascual said that for some reason, there was a power outage in the area.
All the seeming advantages given the rival union by the Dolefil management and the strings of suspicious coincidences such as disinformation and brownout enabled the Amado Kadena’s rival to register a landslide victory. Although the latter’s supporters have reasons to complain yet again to the Task Force Dolefil elections, Pascual said doing so would only reveal how toothless the Task Force was. But more than that, he said it would only benefit the Dolefil management because any protest would delay the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.
But to learn last month that the employers such as Dolefil have received the highest commendation from ECOP in its biennial awards, with the Philippine president handing out the trophies to the winners side by side with ECOP leaders, “shows you the meaning of so-called tripartism the ECOP and the government have in their minds,” Pascual lamented.
“If the employers sincerely desire dialogues with their employees, they will not militarize their workers, they will not depose the duly-elected union in an underhanded manner, they will condemn the military and other armed troops who would tail and harass union leaders and active members, and most of all, they would not make a mockery of democratic processes such as union general assemblies and local elections,” Pascual told bulatlat.com.
The main recipients of the ECOP’s biennial Kapatid Award for industrial peace, led by Dole Philippines Inc (or Dolefil), are employers whom Pascual said have “record of trade union repression, violations of trade union and health and safety rights, and in the case of Nestle Philippines, even a likely complicity in the extra-judicial killings of two successive union presidents.”