By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – House-to-house harassment of union members. Forced disaffiliation from Kilusang Mayo Uno. Threats to be proscribed as terrorists. An agent of anti-communist task force disguised as a Lalamove driver.
These are only some of the horrors members and leaders of the Wyeth Philippines Progressive Workers Union (WPPWU) have been facing since last year. Workers have reported continuous surveillance and intimidation from agents of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Today, September 15, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) leads a Global Day of Action for Workers’ Rights in condemnation of the continuing harassment many labor unions, especially WPPWU, experiences as part of the Duterte administration’s bogus and bloody anti-terror campaign.
A timeline of harassment
Wyeth Philippines Progressive Workers Union (WPPWU) is a 62-year-old union of workers in Wyeth Philippines, Cabuyao, Laguna. During those decades, it achieved milestones in the protection of workers’ rights.
In its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) from 2019-2022, the union was able to assert an additional P2,250 (US$113.24) salary for workers for each succeeding year, P250,000 ($12,583) healthcare benefits that can be increased to P750,000 $37,748) for workers with grave illnesses.
The union was also able to clinch other benefits even in the middle of the pandemic, such as free boarding, free meals, door-to-door shuttle service, an additional P220 ($11) meal allowance, free testing, an additional 14-day sick leave for those who test positive for COVID-19, free face masks, face shields, and vitamins, among others.
“At the time of the pandemic, and during the regime’s implementation of the lockdown, they have been negotiating with the companies and finding ways to secure the health and safety of workers inside and outside the workplace. But as they face the problems caused by the pandemic, their lives and rights are also attacked by agents of the state, by NTF-ELCAC,” Tony Pascual of the National Federation of Labor Unions-KMU (NAFLU-KMU) said in Filipino.
The first incident was recorded in December 2020, when an NTF-ELCAC agent disguised as a Lalamove rider visited the factory in Canlubang, Calamba and asked if WPPWU was associated with Drug, Food, and Allied Workers Association – Kilusang Mayo Uno (DFA-KMU) and who its officials are.
On February 16, 2021, agents of NTF-ELCAC visited the house of a union official. The officer was asked to ‘cooperate’ and to have WPPWU disaffiliated from DFA-KMU. As a result of constant threats, harassment, and intimidation, said officer resigned from the union. About 10 more officers and members experienced the same.
From March to April 2021, the union filed complaints with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and with the national and regional offices of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Nonetheless, the harassment of other members continued. By June 2021, more than 30 agents of NTF-ELCAC intruded the elections being conducted by the union to fill vacant positions in its Executive Board.
This month, another official was threatened that non-disaffiliation of their union from DFA-KMU would be a violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Said official was given within the month to have the union’s membership sign a petition for disaffiliation.
The fight continues
The case of the Wyeth union is no different from other unions asserting their rights, according to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR).
“We all know that it is the basic right of workers to unionize, but we have always seen the repercussions and attacks they have to face whenever they exercise this right. From the beginning of establishing a union, and even if it has existed for so long already like in Wyeth and Nexperia, the attacks do not stop,” Kamz Deligente of CTUHR said.
Nexperia Philippines Inc. Workers Union of Nexperia Philippines Inc. (Nexperia), also located in Laguna, has also been threatened by state agents to disaffiliate with KMU.
Other unions that experience the same harassment are Optodev Workers Union of Optodev Inc. in Laguna, Alcophil Workers Union of Alcophil Metal Corporation Inc. in Valenzuela, and Adnama Mining Resources Inc. Labor Union of Adnama Mining Resources Inc. in Surigao del Norte.
“In the past, our observation is that the workers have to go against the management because of conflicting interests. But this year, it is alarming because workers face a greater enemy – state agents. Particularly in the recent incidents, agents of NTF-ELCAC,” Deligente said.
Labor lawyer Remigio Saladero of the Pro Labor Assistance Center (PLACE) said that in the face of these violations, workers are not helpless.
“What is happening at present can persist if we do not make any steps. We need to do something, may it be legal or metalegal,” Saladero said.
He said workers can file an administrative cases against members of NTF-ELCAC or the police. Other options include filing of administrative cases of oppression or grave abuse of authority in the Internal Affairs Service of PNP itself, or with NAPOLCOM, the Ombudsman, or the Commission on Human Rights.
He also explained that cases can be filed against elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) involved in the harassment of union leaders and members in the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices.
“Now, if those steps do not produce any results, there is still a way. We can use mass media and social media so the public will be informed of what is happening,” he added.
Other labor unions, such as the Globesco Free Workers Union (GFWU-ANGLO-KMU), have also expressed solidarity with WPPWU.
A Change.org petition has also been launched to strengthen the campaign to #StandWithWyethWorkers. (RVO)