Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. IV,  No. 33                             September 19 - 25, 2004                     Quezon City, Philippines


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Fight Goes on for San Miguel’s Retrenched Workers

San Miguel Corporation, which has been yearly landing on the SEC’s list of top 10 corporations, has closed down its warehouses in Sta. Mesa, Manila; Cubao, Quezon City; and Caloocan City. A union official of the company believes the shutdown is a case of contractualization.

By Alexander Martin Remollino

Rolando Rosario goes home to his wife and three children only once a week these days. The last weekend he went home before this writing, his three children told him: “Tatay (father), your fight looks very hard on you. You’re so thin already. Looks like there’s nothing coming out of it.”

Rosario, 40, is one of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) warehouse workers who lost their jobs last June 12. The food and beverage company’s warehouses at Pureza Extension, Sta. Mesa, Manila; Caloocan City; and Cubao, Quezon City were closed down that day.

He says that it was only on June 12 itself when company officials announced the retrenchment. Without being given a 30-day notice, 191 SMC warehouse workers were laid off, says Rosario who is also a vice president of the SMC Employees Union.


The Labor Code of the Philippines requires employers to notify workers of a business establishment’s shutdown at least 30 days before the date of closure. The striking workers are demanding that they and their co-workers be reinstated.

The letter sent to the workers by the SMC management mentions three reasons for the shutdown: that warehousing will henceforth no longer be part of SMC’s core business, that SMC is affected by the competition spawned by globalization, and that the company has to undertake cost-cutting measures.

Rosario does not find the second reason credible. SMC’s biggest business interest, he says, lies in beverages, and the only competition it faces in this area is that from Lucio Tan’s Asia Brewery.

“But visit any restaurant,” he says, “or beerhouse for that matter, and you are almost sure to see nothing else but San Miguel products. In its main field of business, San Miguel is unrivalled.”

SMC has been landing in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s list of top ten corporations every year – a feat unmatched by Asia Brewery.

The third reason – that SMC supposedly has to undertake cost-cutting measures – is the reason Rosario thinks is closest to the truth.

“They have found in the present state of the economy a justification for cost-cutting measures,” he says.

“But they can’t cut down on production costs, because the quality of their products would deteriorate,” the union official adds. “So the only thing left for them to cut down on is the cost of labor. Thus they have apparently decided to reduce the workforce.”

As regards the warehousing no longer being part of SMC’s core business, Rosario argues that warehousing is the final step in beer production.

The union official, meanwhile, recalls a statement from the SMC management that the closure of the warehouses would only be temporary – to buy time for the entry of private contractors. “So it appears that the management intends to remove all of us regulars and replace us with contractual employees,” he points out. “And when you are a contractual worker, you have no benefits and you don’t have to be paid all that much.”

In the end, he says, contractualization is more “profitable” for corporations.

Bulatlat tried to contact the SMC management to get its side on the issue. This reporter was referred to Donnie Gutierrez of the human resources division, who subsequently referred him to Jane Francisco of the public affairs division. Francisco has not been answering calls to her telephone.

Separation package

The company has offered the retrenched workers a separation package amounting to P1.6 million ($28,571.43 based on a $1:P56 exchange rate) each. Many of the workers who at first manned the picket lines have accepted the package.

“I can’t really blame them,” Rosario admits, “considering the hard times we are in right now.”

Only 18 of the original 191 strikers are staying put. According to Rosario, the pickets at Cubao and Caloocan have been reduced to one striker each – so the warehouse in Sta. Mesa, Manila where he used to work has become the strike’s gravitational center. The remaining strikers at Cubao and in Caloocan now “report” to the picket line in Sta. Mesa.

Considering that Rosario has three children – two of whom are still in school – what makes Rosario stay in the picketline?

“I’m 40 and I’m still good for another 20 years or so,” he says. “If I can go on working for another 20 years, I can see all my children finish school.”

“But with the P1.6 million – what with the high cost of living these days – that money is not going to last very long,” he adds. “It’s not going to last 20 years. So I choose to fight for my job.”

And because he has chosen to fight for his job together with 17 of his co-workers, he has been going home to his wife and children very seldom these days. He doesn’t want to see his children taking pity on him - or hear them talking him into taking the offered separation package. Bulatlat

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