ZEA IO MING C. CAPISTRANO
DAVAO CITY – The union of the banana plantation owned by Nader & Ebrahim S/O Hassan Philippines, Inc. (NEH) in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte stopped work for two days this weekend before the company gave in to their demands.
It was the shortest strike to date in Mindanao, a labor leader said.
The United Pantaron Banana Workers Union – Association of Democratic Labor Organizations (UPBWU-ADLO) conducted the strike starting Friday (April 17) after the management barred the entry of union members who refused to work overtime.
On Thursday (April 16), the workers conducted what they call as boycott of overtime at the packing house. The following day, the workers were barred from entering the company premises. In response, field workers and harvesters stopped their work.
Vernecita Labra, union director, told Davao Today in an interview on Saturday that 134 workers joined the strike resulting to a total paralysis of the plant’s operation.
On afternoon of Saturday (April 18), while the workers were on the second day of their strike, the Department of Labor and Employment and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board here reached an agreement with the NEH management.
Carlo Olalo, spokesman for Kilusang Mayo Uno, shared that the NEH management were told that refusing to give the overtime pay is a violation of the labor code.
“It was good that it did not take them (NEH) long to realize that they should give what is due to the workers,” Olalo said. He added that the strike is believed to be the shortest in history.
A compromise agreement was signed on April 18 between the NEH management, MEDC-MSIA Employees Development Cooperative, the agency that manages the workers of the plantation, and the Association of Democratic Labor Organizations-Kilusang Mayo Uno, where the union of the packing house is affiliated.
The management agreed to grant unpaid overtime premium in full for one year covering February 28, 2014 to February 28, 2015. The said payment will be released on April 25.
The management also agreed that the workers will be granted overtime premium starting March 1, 2015 and onward.
Other provisions include: the company shall not impose the efficiency rate pending a time and motion study; all SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig remittances will be updated; all packers and harvesters who supported the strike will resume work effective April 19, 2015, 6 a.m.; and, no retaliatory action will be undertaken.
Labra was one of the first workers of the banana plantation in Sto. Tomas when it started in 2005. She said at first she was assigned to work rotating as a selector, packer, weigher, labeler, and checker since the management wanted the workers to learn all the jobs in the plant.
Labra now works as a selector. She is 52 years old. Upon hearing the news, Labra said she was elated.
“We have suffered for more than a year working without payment for overtime work. We endured the management when we first staged mass actions but we proved in the end, that our strength relies in each other and in our union,” she said.
Labra cautioned however that their struggle is a continuing one and expressed her optimism that this victory will inspire other workers to form unions and assert their right to strike.
More than a year
Labra said their demand for overtime pay started January last year. They first tried walking out of work and refusing to work overtime on October 22.
“We tried walking out from our work to force the management to talk to us. We only worked for eight hours that time. The next day, we were barred from entering the company premises because they said we abandoned our work ” Labra recalled.
Two days after their protest action, Labra said the management told them they will talk about it.
The workers of the packing house 84 are managed by a labor agency called MSIA Employees Development Cooperative. On October 23 last year the agency issued a Notice to Explain to the workers on why they left work early. The notice was signed by Human Resource Supervisor, Myra M. Betonio. After three days of barring their entry, they were allowed to go back to work.
Labra said two of her previous colleagues in the packing plant were assigned by the company as line inspectors “and they were paid with overtime pay” prompting them to question why they do not receive their overtime pay.
“The operations manager (under the agency) told me they will allow us to sit in a meeting with the management so we can raise our demands to them,” Labra said.
Labra said they went as far as the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) which gave them a referral to file a case.
“But workers under our union agreed that we will not anymore file a case because it is a long drawn-out process. We agreed to look for another way,” Labra said.
That way is holding collective action — from concerted walk-out to boycott overtime and finally, a strike.
Olalo said the victory of the union “demonstrates the significance of workers organizing themselves under a genuine, militant, and anti-imperialist union.”
“Let this victory be an inspiration for other workers so they will not be deterred by attempts of big capitalists to violate their rights,” Olalo said.
According to its website, the NEH is an “exporter of fresh Cavendish bananas to Middle East and Far East markets.” Their market includes countries such as Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.