“All workers at the picket line were beaten up, even the seniors. The workers were told by the soldiers that they have to leave the picket line because it’s already Martial Law.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Workers from Metro Manila and Mindanao trooped to the Department of Labor and Employment on Wednesday, June 7, to call for the lifting of Martial Law. They raised the alarm on two things: one, that Martial Law has been used and is being used against the legitimate exercise of people’s democratic rights, and two, that the civilian government seems to be remiss in putting teeth to its laws when it comes to decisions favoring the workers.
“The despotic military officials in connivance with foreign and local capitalists have been using Duterte’s martial law as a license to curtail civil liberties and suppress workers’ legitimate and just demands,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary-general.
On June 2, elements of Philippine Army’s 66th Infantry Battalion and members of the Philippine National Police attacked the picket line of striking workers in San Miguel village of Compostela Valley. During said attack on the 2-month strike, the workers asserted their rights to hold a strike and maintain their picket line, but the soldiers and the police reportedly refused to listen and instead told the workers: “Labor laws are no longer being recognized because of Martial Law.”
The hundred-strong combined forces of soldiers and policemen then proceeded to arrest the strikers and their supporters, dragging and manhandling them including a senior citizen and a minor.
The workers’ picket line is now thoroughly destroyed, Shin Sun workers told Bulatlat.
‘Martial Law turns overt, becomes more fierce’
According to the statements of protesters in front of the Labor department, the government has been implementing what amounts to a de-facto strike against the progressive workers’ movement. What the Martial Law declaration did is make it fiercer and bare-faced.
In Shin Sun Fruit Corporation, the longtime contractual workers, like other contractuals, were forced to build a union in secret, not because it is illegal to do so but because an early reveal would immediately expose them to dismissal and harassment.
The Shin Sun workers union has reached only a third of the workforce when the management learned of their organizing efforts. The union succeeded in bringing the Labor department to inspect the company, during which it assessed that indeed, Shin Sun was violating some labor standards. Among others, the Labor department directed Shin Sun to absorb as regular employees the more than 200 contractuals who have worked there from two to 8 years now.
With the favorable decision, the unionists hoped the rest of the workers would be more easily persuaded into joining them, to ensure its enforcement.
In an interview with Bulatlat, they said the Korean owner ignored any attempt at negotiation. Then it terminated the unionists by replacing them with other contractuals, prompting the union to hold a strike.
For two months the workers’ strike in Korean-owned Shin Sun Fruit company has peacefully succeeded at paralyzing production in its packing plant in the village of San Miguel, Compostela Valley. The strikers had hoped the owner would be more inclined to respect workers’ rights, pay their mandated wage, implement the proper health and safety standards, respect their democratic rights, and, for starters, abide by the order of the Labor department issued since February to absorb as regular workers its years-long contractuals.
“We are fighting for the rights of all Shin Sun workers to become regular on the job, to enjoy their legally mandated wages and benefits,” the union president, Royjim Balanghig, 27, said.
The rest of the workers cooperated in the strike, but soon the Korean owner Mi Kyung Kwon allowed the soldiers to encamp in the packing plant and harass the strikers. Amid this militarization, the employer deployed scabs to clean up the plant and promised the non-unionized contractuals that they would get the jobs of the strikers.
lowing the attacks on the picket line by the elements of the 66th Infantry Battalion, Shin Sun countered the union demands for it to abide by the Labor department’s order to regularize all the contractuals. The unionists told Bulatlat the Korean employer made the other workers sign waiver and quit claims, nullifying the Labor department’s order in Shin Sun. It also made the workers sign agreements that they would not join or form unions.
It left the unionists vulnerable and divided the community, Balanghig said. Most Shin Sun workers hailed from San Miguel and other nearby villages in Compostela Valley. Getting regular jobs and improved wages have long been a demand among members of the community.
With the picket line demolished, Shin Sun was able to take out of the plant 1,540 boxes or 40 tons of fruits for exports. Its plantation and packing plant covers 180 hectares.
Before the strike, workers in the plantation area work from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. while those in the packing plant work from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. They were paid P252 to P291 ($5.09 to $5.88), amounts which are below the minimum wages in the region.
The company has yet to resume production. Balanghig said they got reports that Kyung told the scabs she is planning to sell the business to Sumifru (Sumitomo Fruit company), a bigger fruit exporting company in Compostela Valley.
“What will you do, (Labor Secretary) Bello, with these workers whose rights have been violated?” asked Joselito Ustarez, KMU vice-president, during their protest in front of the Labor department.
The workers demanded the immediate release of three workers still being detained in Compostela Valley, and justice for the rough treatment of the workers.
Carl Olalo, the secretary general of KMU-Southern Mindanao Region, condemned the Martial Law declared over Mindanao saying it “legalized the armed assault and arrest of workers resisting capitalist exploitation.”
“Before the strike, there’s already an order from the Labor Department to regularize contractual workers. But the Korean capitalist didn’t recognize or honor this. The labor laws have been deemed toothless,” he said.
The KMU especially those in Mindanao condemned the terror being wreaked by the Maute group, but at the same time, it urged the Duterte administration to see and stop the trend that Martial Law is being used against progressive workers.
“Duterte and Labor Secretary Bello should know by now the roots of fighting and problems in Mindanao. But declaring Martial Law is not the solution to terrorism or to the rebellion they’re talking about,” Olalo said.
He called on the Labor department to speak against the attacks on workers in Mindanao, to do something against the direct intervention of the PNP and AFP forces in a labor-management dispute.
The workers also called for a new order against contractualization, saying the Labor department’s DO 174 has obviously been not enough to resolve the festering contractualization in the likes of Shin Sun.
In the long term, they urged also Labor Sec. Bello, who is head of the GRP peace panel, to be more active at continuing the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF.
“In the fifth round of talks, they’re supposed to have started talking solutions to poverty and crisis, the things that give rise to ‘terrorism’ and extremism of the likes of the Maute, and armed rebellion of revolutionary groups,” Olalo said.