Their rights ignored by the management, the labor federation their union supposedly belongs to, and the Labor department, the workers of Pentagon Steel had no other option but to fight for their rights.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Since 1981, when the ‘union’ of the workers of Pentagon Steel Corporation was supposedly established, they never experienced holding a union election, except once, and this was not honored or recognized by the company or the labor department.
“We just learned about our having a union when we saw at our salary slips deductions for union dues,” the protesting workers told Bulatlat.com this week.
The first and only election they witnessed – and where they actually participated in – was the local elections they conducted on July 3, 2011. Jerico Canciller, 41, a machine operator for 13 years in Pentagon and a union member, told Bulatlat.com they submitted the results of their union elections to the labor department and to the labor federation PTGWO (Philippine Trade and General Workers’ Organization) where their union is legally affiliated. PTGWO is a federation under the government-backed Trade Union Confederation of the Philippines.
Both the labor department and PTGWO reportedly ignored the results of this lone actual union election at Pentagon Steel. Instead, the workers were told that on Feb 3, 2010, they purportedly had a union election without their knowing it.
Pentagon management reverted to its habit of appointing its chosen union officers, who, at present, command about 50 workers, while the workers’ union protesting their “leadership” has around 138 members.
Workers say that all they want is a safer, more humane working environment, beginning with proper ventilation in their workplace.
Jacinto Adenit, another union member, told the media that at work, workers are exposed to the extreme heat of huge steel ovens, exacerbated during summer months.
“We inhale acid – they are in uncovered vats. We inhale dust, rust – we workers share all of it everyday. We work without personal protective gear, despite the dangerous condition of the workplace. Because of the extreme heat inside the workplace, we wear sleeveless shirts, slippers,” the protesting workers said. They are allowed very short coffee and lunch breaks. They do not have sick leaves even if majority of them have worked in the company for more than 10 years.
“When one of us meets an accident at work, he or she must bring himself/herself to the hospital and pay for the treatment,” Canciller said. He said the company’s excuse for not paying for their treatment is that they already have SSS benefits. Injured workers’ absence as a result of their work-related injuries is not considered as sick leave.
This had been the workers’ condition since Pentagon started operation in 1975, despite the workers having been “unionized” since 1981.
All these prompted the majority of the Pentagon steel workers to change the leadership and orientation of their union – to make it serve the workers’ interest for a change. But everyday they have to maintain a protest picket outside their workplace just to assert their rights and prompt the management, as well as the government’s labor department, and the police to respect these rights.
When Bulatlat.com and student journalists from College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines visited their picket, Amorsolo Aglibut, director and officer-in-charge of National Conciliation and Mediation Board in the NCR, was also there. But he immediately went inside the company premises without entertaining media queries.
Pentagon Steel union members said they would continue pressing their case, their union and their right to decent work conditions, by picketing the workplace. They do not put much faith in the labor department coming out with a decision favoring the workers, without the workers’ concerted actions. See here, the workers said, pointing to the labor department’s issued injunction order against their picket. They asked: “How could Pentagon charge us with ‘illegal strike,’ when we’re not on strike? Why can’t the labor department see the obvious that the company is resorting to an ‘illegal lockout’, which had prompted the so-called ‘illegal strike?’ Why put the pressure on the union, who is only defending their jobs, and not on the management?”