They are demanding their regularization, higher wages, and a safe workplace.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In the wake of a factory fire in the capital that killed 72 workers and left 30 more missing, contractual workers in Tanduay Distillers Inc. launched a strike May 18 in Cabuyao, Laguna, south of Manila. They are demanding their regularization, higher wages, and a safe workplace. They want to reduce the risk of accidents and deaths at work before it becomes too late like in Kentex slippers factory.
“Similar to the lack of safety protocols in Kentex, the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) is pervasive also in our workplace,” said Anse Are, president of workers’ organization Tanggulan Ugnayang Daluyang lakas ng Anakpawis sa Tanduay Distillers Inc. (TUDLA) or literally, Defense, Linkages and Channel of Workers’ Strength in Tanduay Distillers Inc).
The group said when workers use PPE in Tanduay, it is deducted from their wages, forcing them to forgo it but they become more vulnerable to injury. They sustain wounds from frequent exploding or breaking of bottles.
Unfortunately, even in their picketline this week, they risk injury from shards of broken bottles. This time, these are being thrown at them by Tanduay management’s security guards. On May 19, at 8 a.m., the second day of their strike, the security guards threw bottles and rocks at the picketline, hitting and wounding strikers in the process. The place became littered with shards of glass.
“Instead of stopping the guards, the policemen at the scene merely shrugged their shoulders,” Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan-Kilusang Mayo Uno (Pamantik-KMU) told Bulatlat.com.
During the first day of their strike, the management attempted twice to disperse the workers through water cannon. This followed attacks on the picketline by a combined force of company security guards and the police hitting the strikers with truncheons, and throwing stones and bottles at them.
Strikers saw three trucks labeled with “BJMP” and loaded with male passengers entering the factory premises. BJMP stands for Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. The strike has reportedly paralyzed the company operations from 5 a.m. of May 18 until early morning of May 19. So far, the contractual workers have maintained their picket despite harassment from the police and security guards. They are in front of Gate 2 of Asia Brewery Complex along Katipunan Highway in Pala village, Cabuyao, Laguna.
Tanduay management has not yet faced the strikers on the negotiating table.
For humane wages, labor conditions
Tanduay workers blame their below minimum wages, insecure and dangerous work conditions on the consuming “greed” of billionaire tycoon Lucio Tan whose company owns Tanduay Distillers Inc. as well as Asia Brewery in Laguna, Philippine Airlines, Philippine National Bank, and Eton real estate.
Forbes magazine listed Lucio Tan as the second wealthiest billionaire from the Philippines with a net worth of $6.1 billion or P270 billion.
The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno said in a statement how unjust it is, for such high ranking billionaire from the Philippines to keep 90 percent of its workforce in Tanduay as lower-paid contractuals.
Based on the Labor Code, these workers should have been regular on the job for years now as they have worked continuously in Tanduay for five to 11 years already. Until the strike this week, Tanduay Distillers Inc. employs nearly 400 contractual workers of long standing, with less than 40 regular workers.
Contractuals said their pay is lower than the mandated minimum wage, which is already considered low compared to the Family Living Wage and to Tanduay’s profits.
In 2012 and 2013, the company reported net sales of over P10 billion ($224.6 million) and P12 billion ($269.5 million) respectively. TUDLA said only a minuscule part of it goes to Tanduay workers as wages and benefits.
The contractual workers chafe at the injustice of receiving only P315 ($7.07) per day when the minimum wage is P362.50 ($8.14) in the region, the KMU said. Worse, the government will further slash the minimum wages to P255 ($5.73) “floor wage,” if it had its way in implementing its new two-tier wage policy, the striking workers’ organization, TUDLA, said in a statement.
Collusion and repression
Aside from the unjust and “inhumane wages and job conditions,” TUDLA’s Are said they hope to see changes also in the existing union in Tanduay.
Are describes this union as “yellow and turning a blind eye on workers’ sorry plight,” which, he said, explains why their condition does not improve even with a union around.
It was TUDLA that has been working to expose what they call as illegal labor-only-contracting happening for more than a decade now in Tanduay. TUDLA accessed the legal venues provided by law to get redress, starting with getting their organization registered with the labor department. Last month they succeeded in securing their registration papers with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
But it turned out they not only have an “inutile union,” Are also decried the “blindness and deafness to the truth” of their situation by the DOLE personnel.
“We orderly followed the requirements in filing a petition for regularization with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), but the labor inspectors themselves turned out to be paid accomplices of Lucio Tan,” Are said in Filipino.
Dante Ragasa, TUDLA’s vice-president, said labor inspectors Jennifer Taip and Daisy Ramos neither really listen to them nor observe the actual conditions when they came over to “inspect.”
How else would they fail to realize the company is engaged in labor-only contracting (LOC) which is supposed to be illegal? Ragasa asked in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
He explained that the agencies employing contractuals in Tanduay Distillers Inc. simply supply manpower to Tanduay, a practice that is supposed to be illegal according to the labor department.
But, similar to the burned down Kentex that cremated with it 72 or more workers — the labor department claims it was “compliant” with labor standards and safety requirements. The labor inspectors in Tanduay reported as “legal” the two agencies supplying it with contractuals, the Global Skills Providers Multi-purpose Cooperative and the HD Manpower Service Cooperative.
Not only did the labor department not see the proofs shown them by workers that an illegal LOC is happening in the profitable company, TUDLA said their efforts to expose and oppose it have been met with repression.
On May 16, the contractuals received confirmation “that more than 200 among us are to be illegally terminated just because we stood and fought for what is right and just working conditions,” TUDLA’s statement read.
On that date, Tanduay management denied them work schedules, effectively removing them on the job. They include machine operators, product quality assurance, and maintenance workers.
The termination followed various forms of repression, TUDLA said. These, they said, included forcing them to go on a five-day leave starting on April 24, and forcing them to sign a waiver that would retract their calls for regularization.
“For so many times, our members have been threatened with termination, or else verbally abused and reviled as ingrate,” TUDLA said. But, they asked, how did it come about that it was they who are called ingrates when they have served the company for a decade without tasting a tiny morsel of the profit which their labor brought to it?
For that, TUDLA launched their strike on May 18. They appealed to fellow workers and other sectors such as the students, professionals, farmers, church people and patriotic politicians and others more to help boost their calls against the exploitative likes of Lucio Tan.
Lucio Tan as a sample of the elite
“The labor situation in Tanduay-Cabuyao confirms that Tan, a prime example of the country’s elite, is most socially irresponsible. He is clearly conscious of the vast wealth that he has accumulated but shows no recognition of the pitiful state of the workers who create his wealth,” Joselito Ustarez, KMU vice president, said in a statement.
The labor center said Lucio Tan and the Tanduay-Cabuyao management should heed the workers’ just demands and stop meeting these with repression. Ustarez warned that grave violations of workers’ rights would always spur workers’ resistance.
The KMU has condemned the massive illegal layoff which Tanduay planned to carry out before the contractuals held a strike. It also criticized the violent dispersal.
In Cabuyao by afternoon of May 19, the Liga ng mga Manggagawang Kontraktwal (or League of Contractual Citizens), the Pamantik-KMU and other supporters joined TUDLA in marching to Cabuyao market to request the people’s support and to urge City Hall to put pressure on their local government especially Mayor Isidro “Jun” Hemedes Jr. and the Philippine National Police in Cabuyao to defend the workers of Tanduay and not Lucio Tan.
In the capital, along with various workers’ formations from both the public and private sectors under the campaign network All Workers’ Unity, Ustarez of KMU called for the banning of contractual employment in the country, saying the employment scheme is “a crime against Filipino workers.”