He (company representative) said it is prohibited to form a union, what nonsense! Even the clapping of hands is against the law? He is making up these laws. There is nothing in the law that prohibits the clapping of hands.
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MEYCAUAYAN, Bulacan — Owned by Filipino-Chinese businessman Joselito Campos, NutriAsia, Inc. is the biggest producer of liquid condiments in the Philippines. In 2015, it recorded at least P16.8 billion ($320 million) in total assets, and distributes and sells products in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Pacific, and North America. It is known for the products Datu Puti, UFC, Papa, Mang Tomas, Jufran, Golden Fiesta, and Happy Fiesta.
In an interview with Jessie Gerola, chairperson of the union Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng NutriAsia, there are about 1,400 workers in NutriAsia, only 100 among them are regularized. The rest are employed by six subcontracting agencies.
On June 2, workers started to go on strike after about 50 workers were terminated for having participated in a protest condemning the dismissal of five union leaders and members.
Today is their third day in the picket line.
Terminated for clapping
“Pumalakpak lang kami, nawalan na kami ng trabaho, (We just clapped our hands and we lost our jobs) a worker said.
According to the NutriAsia management, this caused the disruption of work and resulted in massive losses for the company — yet, the clapping of hands began as the least intrusive though expressive way of condemning the termination on the job of the leaders of the pioneer union without just cause.
According to Gerola, B-Mirk Operations Manager Rey Apolinario said it is illegal for the workers to form a union. B-Mirk Enterprises Corporation is one of the subcontracting agencies suplying workers to NutriAsia.
“Bawal daw mag-unyon, kalokohan! Gumagawa siya ng sarili niyang batas. Pati palakpak, ginagawan niya ng sariling batas. Wala naman sa batas na bawal ang pagpapalakpak (He said it is prohibited to form a union, what nonsense! Even the clapping of hands is against the law? He is making up these laws. There is nothing in the law that prohibits the clapping of hands),” Gerola said.
This is, however, not an isolated incident of violation of workers’ rights in NutriAsia.
According to Gerola, who has been an employee of NutriAsia for 14 years now, he received payment for Service Incentive Leave (SIL) only once. Although NutriAsia requires workers to render work for 12 hours, overtime pay is irregular, and they are paid less than the expected amount of their 13th-month pay.
The union leader also described how working conditions inside the factory make workers prone to accidents and illnesses.
“At work, we could not claim that the workers are safe. The workspaces are too congested, so hot fluid usually spills on the workers’ skins, scalding them. NutriAsia does not bring the workers to their own clinic to avoid having to write an accident report. Instead, they brought the injured to the clinic of the B-Mirk agency. The NutriAsia management threatens those injured that if they report the accident, they will be removed from their jobs,” Gerola said in Filipino.
A compliance order and inspection report of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) affirmed these.
On Feb. 28 DOLE Regional Office 4-A Director Zenaida Angara-Campita already issued a compliance order for the company to give regular employment status to 914 of its workers. DOLE also found that NutriAsia has been non-compliant with occupational health and safety standards, exposing the workers to excessive heat and not providing any protective equipment. Payment for workers’ uniforms is also deducted from the employee’s wages. According to Gerola, these uniforms cost more than PhP1,000.
Intense harassments at the picket line
On the first day of the strike, the Bulacan Provincial Police arrived and asked if the strikers had a permit. Gerola said that there was no need, as DOLE has already permitted them to conduct a strike.
On the second day, more reinforcements arrived, this time with a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) group. More than 50 armed men — the police and SWAT combined — are currently housed inside the NutriAsia compound.
“Ang pulis dapat sa tao nagseserbisyo. Kapag pinrotektahan nila ang isang pribadong kompanya, ang tawag doon ay private army,” a protester said. (“The police are supposed to serve and protect the people. When they protect private companies, they become private armies.”)
According to the Guidelines in the Conduct of PNP Personnel, Private Security Guards and Company Guard Forces During Strikes, Lockouts, and Labor Disputes in General, issued by DOLE and the National Police Commission (NPC) in 1997, “The peace keeping detail shall not be stationed in the picket (or confrontation line) but should be stationed such that their presence may deter the commission of criminal acts or any untoward incident from either side. The members of the peace keeping detail shall stay outside a 50 meter radius from the picket line, except, if the 50 meter radius includes a public thoroughfare, they may station themselves in such public thoroughfare for the purpose of ensuring the free flow of traffic.”
The police and SWAT, however, are stationed near the strike area, and are even given concessions by the company. According to one of the police who tried to go inside the NutriAsia premises, they had to go there to eat and to use the restroom.
The state agents are even reported to be armed with long firearms.
When police officers said they already had to leave the premises because it was the end of their shift, a police officer, called “Tongol”, and the strikers, came to an agreement that each police leaving the premises will be replaced by another police officer supposedly to avoid any additional and armed state agents going inside the NutriAsia premises. The police officer also promised to exercise maximum tolerance on the protesters and claimed that they were there only to preserve peace and order.
“Kaya sa mga kapulisan na nandito, alam natin kung sino ang pinapanigan niyan, nagkukunwari-kunwari lang na napapagitnaan, pero kailangan nilang mamili ng paninilbihan — kung kanino sila papanig dahil alam naman natin kung sino ang mali at tama. Dahil ang kapitalista, hindi gagawa ng kabutihan para sa mga manggagawa. Ngayon, ang kapitalista, ang management, ginigipit ang mga manggagawa, sa simpleng palakpak lang, tinanggal na sila,” Gerola emphasized.
(“We know who the police sides with. They are merely pretending that they are not siding with anyone. They have to choose who to protect — in fact, they should already know who is right and who is wrong. Capitalists do not want anything good for the workers. We can already see how the capitalists, the management, are trying to harass the workers — by removing them merely because they had clapped.”)
At 11:00 p.m. in the evening, June 3, Bulatlat received an urgent alert that the Chief of Marilao Police, reportedly a certain “Col. Pangan,” instigated a fight with the strikers. Three workers were injured.
The police have also started to bar media personnel and non-NutriAsia workers from entering the main road leading to the factory.
Today, the NutriAsia unionists are set to hold a dialogue with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) and DOLE of Bulacan. Gerola hopes that the NutriAsia management will finally face them, after years — and decades, for some — of neglect and exploitation.