Revisiting labor contractualization

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

A year ago I discussed in this space how labor contractualization — where firms hire workers for short-term, non-regular employment without the benefits accorded by law to regular workers — has been a bane to Filipino workers since 1989, ironically, I said, under the post-martial law Labor Code.

That was inaccurate. In fact, labor contractualization has been a big issue since the Marcos martial-law dictatorship. That takes us back not just 26 years, but at least 40 years – to the workers’ strike at La Tondeña Distillery in Tondo, Manila in October 1975.

The striking workers then demanded that the 600 “casuals” (also referred to as “contractual workers”) and 500 “extras” in their ranks, who had been working for more than six months, be made regular workers.

By happenstance, it’s the strike/protest action of 397 contractual workers, begun last May 18, at another distillery — the Tanduay Distillers Inc. plant in Cabuyao, Laguna — that refreshed our memory about the first workers’ strike under martial law calling for the end of labor contractualization.

(Tanduay Distillers is owned by Lucio Tan, cited by Forbes magazine as the second richest Filipino billionaire whose personal net worth is $6.1billion, or P270 billion.)

The 397 contractual workers, who walked out and set up pickets at a gate of the Asia Brewery compound where the distillery plant is located, comprise 90% of the plant’s workforce. They have been working for Tanduay for 5 to 11 years, paid only P315 a day (less than the P362 official minimum wage in the Calabarzon industrial area). They don’t enjoy benefits such as medical care, sick leave, vacation leave, or bonus.

Being “contractuals” disallowed by law from forming or joining a union, the workers organized themselves into an association to fight for their right to become regular workers. They named it Tanggulan Ugnayan Dulugang Lakas ng Anakpawis sa Tanduay Distillers Inc. or TUDLA.

By launching a strike, TUDLA seeks to blaze a trail for other contractual workers in various firms to organize and demand to be accorded their right to regular employment and humane working conditions. Thus far they have got two positive responses to their struggle:

• The DOLE Region IV-A has declared that Tanduay Distillers has been illegally employing workers under the labor-only-contracting scheme, which DOLE has banned.

(Under this arrangement, a labor supplier or service contractor merely recruits and supplies workers to perform services to a principal employer, such as Tanduay Distillers. The principal employer thus evades recognizing an employer-employee relationship with the workers, saving on costs that normally go with maintaining regular workers/employees with the corresponding entitlements.)

• At a hearing on the workers’ strike/protest at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the labor arbiter rejected the Tanduay Distillers management’s claim that the striking/protesting workers were not the firm’s employees, but employees of two service contractors who supplied them (Global Skills Providers Multipurpose Cooperative and HD Manpower Service Cooperative).

Also, the management questioned the legitimacy of the strike/protest, saying TUDLA has not been certified as the collective bargaining representative of the rank-and-file workers at the Cabuyao plant.

On the other hand, TUDLA asserts it is right to call the workers’ protest action a strike, invoking the precedents of the 1975 La Tondeña strike and the strike/protest in 2013 of the contractual forklift operators and drivers at the Coca-Cola plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Both actions were victorious.

The La Tondeña strikers, who walked off their work stations for two days, won regular status for at least 300 or half of the contractual workers. More recently, the Coca-Cola strikers gained recognition as regular workers plus wage increases and benefits, after three days of strike/protest.

However, in the Tanduay Distillers case the fight has not been as quickly resolved as in the two above-cited precedents. In two instances, security guards from Asia Brewery (also owned by Lucio Tan) and hired goons harassed and assaulted the strikers and their supporters at the picket line. The local police monitoring the incidents didn’t intervene.

The DOLE hasn’t acted on the workers’ petition for regularization.

The La Tondeña strike was a landmark case. The workers bravely risked losing their jobs and getting arrested and detained because they defied the Marcos dictatorship’s ban on strikes. In fact many of them were beaten with truncheons by the Metrocom, nabbed and shoved into police buses and taken to Camp Crame for detention.

They achieved partial but substantial victory on their demands and stood on moral high ground not only by their courage and defiance but, to a large extent, by the surge of support their strike elicited: from workers in other factories; from priests and nuns, led by Fr. Joe Dizon and Sr. Mary John Mananzan, who boarded the Metrocom buses and stood by the workers in Camp Crame (the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines and the Church Labor Center appealed for public support); and from independent publications, the foreign press, and clandestinely circulated underground publications.

Backed by Kilusang Mayo Uno and its regional counterpart in Southern Tagalog, Pagkakaisa ng mga Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan-KMU (Pamantik-KMU), TUDLA has similarly received strong support from fellow workers, church people, progressive people’s organizations, and in the social media.

Just consider this:

Each day the workers produce P15 million worth of liquor products. In 2012 Tanduay Distillers netted P12 billion in sales; in 2013, P10 billion. But for every peso made by Tanduay, only P0.003 — not even one centavo — is spent for their wages.

* * *

Published in The Philippine Star
June 13, 2015

Share This Post

One Comment - Write a Comment

  1. Labor contractualization should be abolished!! Every worker should automatically become a regular employee after 3 months employment. Shame on these employers for making “slaves” out of our people. And to our lawmakers who made these contract labor laws, shame on you!! Every worker should be entitled to decent wages that will allow for a decent livelihood. We must unite to abolish these labor laws that is a crime against humanity!!

Comments are closed.