Porters lead strike for regular jobs in largest agri-based coop in PH

Many of the company’s longshoremen have worked for SIDC for 31 years but remained as non-regular workers.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Under the administration of President Duterte who promised to end contractualization, another set of contractual workers rose to demand regularization on the job they have been doing for years. Industrial workers producing livestock feeds from Soro Soro Karsada in Batangas, located 108 kilometers or a two-hour drive from Manila, launched a strike for regularization and benefits, early morning of July 11.

Led by 80 longshoremen or stevedores, many of whom have been in a picket-protest since June 22, the workers’ strike paralyzed production in the 400-workforce Soro-Soro Ibaba Development Cooperative (SIDC). Dubbed as the largest agri-based cooperative in the Philippines, with over 24,000 members, it is headed by Rico Geron as chief executive officer. The latter has also parlayed his role in the cooperative to secure a seat in the House of Representatives through the AGAP Partylist.

SIDC Soro Soro Cooperative
Children of SIDC: Born to parents working with SIDC for decades now, these kids lend support to their striking parents who are demanding a change, by way of their being regular in SIDC. (Photo grabbed from Pamantik-KMU FB page, July 11, 2016)

The Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Pamantik-KMU) has condemned, last month, what it described as anti-worker nature of AGAP Partylist and its first nominee, Rico Geron. They highlighted the disparity in the said partylist’s low-wage, insecure contracting arrangement in SIDC and its claims of bringing food to people’s tables.

Many of the company’s longshoremen have worked for SIDC for 31 years but remained as non-regular workers in SIDC. They had been forced in a work arrangement that the government does not even record as part of non-regular work, like the now notorious “contractual” setup with endo (end of contract). The SIDC’s longtime stevedores said they began working for SIDC as direct-hired employees, but were forced to be “agency-hired” in 2009 even as they continued working in SIDC.

‘Permanent contractuals’

When they were at work, the stevedores hauled 300 to 400 sacks of feeds every day, each sack weighing up to 90 kilos. They were supposed to be paid P1.50 for every sack hauled, but the piece-rate base pay was further being shrunk by deductions.

Soro Soro Development  Cooperative Fast Facts
Click to enlarge. Facts about SIDC with picture of SIDC’s CEO Rico Geron. Photo of Geron grabbed from his FB page.

The workers complained that the agency that employs them (in name) withholds P500 from their pay every week purportedly to pay for the agency’s water and electric bills. As such, each month, the agency gets at least P160,000 ($3,375) from the 80 workers of SIDC to pay for the agency’s utility bills. But the workers estimated that the agency only paid up to P5,000 ($105.47) in utility bills each month. The workers also reportedly pay for their own personal and protective equipment.

The DCMM agency that employs them in name is owned by Macario Macalalad, currently village chairman of Talahib Pandayan, Batangas City.

In an hour-long negotiation at the picketline on July 11 between the strikers, the representatives of DCMM and SIDC, and National Conciliation and Mediation Board region IV-A Director Feliciano Orihuela, Macalalad of DCMM agency failed to provide proof of legality and authority of his agency.

Antonette Amorado, spokesperson of Liga ng Manggagawa para sa Regular na Hanapbuhay (LIGA), of which the Samahan ng Manggagawa sa SIDC is a member, said in a statement that SIDC has long been a violator of workers’ rights.

“In the 31 years that they (its porters) have worked for SIDC, they remained contractual on the job, and that pushed them to launch a strike,” Amorado said in Filipino. LIGA is a regional association in Southern Tagalog spearheading the fight against contractualization.

DCMM agency Macario Macalalad picture
Click to enlarge. Facts about SIDC’s engaged DCMM agency, and the striking workers’ demands. On the picture is DCMM owner Macario Macalalad, taken by workers when he visited the picketline with armed policemen July 11, 2016.

Workers said they receive little to no benefit, nor hazard pay from SIDC or DCMM. In fact, they said, despite the inherent risk of fatigue, paralysis and accidents on the job, they said the SIDC does not have a clinic for them but only for the employees it called as its own.

There was a worker in SIDC who, after 26 years on the job, became paralyzed due to over-fatigue, Amorado said. The SIDC just gave that worker P3,000 ($63.28). Another worker nearly crushed by a forklift was given medical attention, but like any non-regular worker, it was no work no pay for him.

Workers urge prompt response from Duterte administration

Marvin Ramos, president of Samahang Manggagawa sa SIDC (SAMA-SIDC-LIGA), urged the Duterte administration to promptly respond and act on the workers’ calls. He expressed optimism that President Duterte could hear their calls against contractualization and dangerous workplaces.

The SIDC strike is the latest in the strike of other workers in Southern Tagalog such as those of Tanduay Distillers Inc., and the two neighboring establishments Manila Cordage Company and Manco Synthetic. They have been years on their jobs but were still considered non-regular. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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