By IGAL JADA SAN ANDRES
In the year 2002, then 31-year old Camilo Tuaren found himself out of work. The company he had served for 15 years – General Offset Press in Bgy. Bagumbayan, Quezon City – had gotten rid of him, because of a provision that said workers who have already served the aforementioned number of years will be removed from work.
Ten years later, Tuaren – now 41 years old – along with 55 others who are members in the company’s Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) union have fought for the security of tenure they rightfully deserve.
“Our only demand [to the management] is to respect the union and the workers’ rights,” he said. “We only want them to get rid of the 15 years of service provision.”
What the union wanted to happen is to modify the rule by changing the limit to 30 years.
“If you start working there by the age of 20 or 21, if the limit is 30 years, you can last there until you’re 50 years old,” Tuaren explained. “Unlike the 15 year limit where, if you start working by the age of 20, you’ll be jobless when you’re 35 years old. This is the reason why we say the management’s position is unjust.”
There have been dialogues with the management, he said, but, lately, they have only been offering to pay off the workers.
“We did not accept their offer of money,” Tuaren said. “We want our jobs back. That is why we have made it clear until now that we stand firm in our position that we want the jobs back, not the money they are offering.”
Since the battle for their rights began, Tuaren his wife, and four children have been living in the picket lines. His two youngest children are currently in high school. The other two have stopped because they did not have enough to send them to school. Back in the day, Tuaren’s wages amounted to P 331 ($7.70) per day.
“[331 pesos] was not enough to sustain my family, but we often went overtime so we can add more to our wages,” he said. “But even when we no longer took breaks, it was still not enough. I couldn’t provide my children with good education. They often complained because we could not give them their allowance.”
The increase of wages is also one of the union’s demands, Tuaren explained.
“We want them to give us 25 pesos more a day, but the management is only willing to give 5 to 7 pesos.”
At present, his wife has become the breadwinner of the family since 2002, when he was removed from work. She is currently working as a security guard under an agency.
“She earns the minimum wage, but when she was stationed at the provinces, she got the provincial rates.”
In addition, Tuaren’s family also receives aid from other sources such as the church and organizations under KMU and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.
The management of General Offset Press is also set on breaking up the union. KMU has been present in the company since the year 1978.
“When Kilusang Mayo Uno was formed and the workers started to learn how to defend their rights and uphold the interests of our fellow Filipinos, [the management] saw the formation of a union,” he said. “Because the union had an agenda, they decided to break it up.”
To fully get rid of the laid off workers, General Offset Press has committed what is called “runaway shop” wherein a company takes all the machineries and materials and sets up shop in another location.
Because of this, Tuaren and his co-workers have filed cases against the company’s management through the NLRC.
“We won the cases in the local arbiter, but because of the corruption in the NLRC and the Supreme Court during Arroyo’s regime, the decision was overturned,” Tuaren said. “Instead of respecting the rights of workers such as the right to form unions, [the management] did not accept them.”
Last May 1, dubbed the “Day of Reckoning,” Tuaren and the other members of their union joined the thousands of people who marched to Mendiola to fight for their rights. The message they want to send President Benigno Aquino III, he said, is to give more attention to the plight of Filipino workers.
“We call on President Aquino to attend to the rights of the workers and to bring an end to contractualization,” he said. “What is happening right now is that [the management] is threatening to break up our union. But workers should be allowed the freedom to form their own unions in order to uphold their rights.”
He also said that not much has changed since the seat of power was transferred from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to President Aquino.
“As of the present, we don’t see any changes [regarding the plight of the workers]. That can be clearly seen in the department orders being circulated which do not defend the interests and uphold the rights of the workers,” Tuaren said. “Instead, his government is always giving space for the capitalists to exploit the working class.”