Why the violence?
The violent police dispersal last week of striking workers of the condiment giant NutriAsia came as a shock, and not only because the brand has been associated with some of the most popular products to grace the Filipino table — UFC Tamis-Anghang Banana Catsup, Mang Tomas All-Around Sarsa, Silver Swan soy sauce, Datu Puti vinegar, among others.
The incident also happened just over a month after Labor Day celebrations, when President Duterte issued an executive order banning contractualization and assuring workers their right to security of tenure.
While slammed by labor groups as “useless” for merely reiterating what is already prohibited in the Labor Code, the EO nonetheless refocused attention on “endo” (end of contract), the practice many employers use to avoid regularizing employees and giving them more benefits.
Such a practice was among the grievances cited by the workers who formed a picket line around NutriAsia’s Marilao, Bulacan plant starting June 2.
The striking workers also cited the recent dismissal of 50 of their fellow workers for allegedly forming a union, and claimed that injured workers were routinely dismissed so that the company could maintain its “zero-accident” record.
And while they receive the mandated minimum daily wage of P380 for Bulacan’s nonagricultural sector, the workers complained of working 10 to 12 hours at no extra compensation under temperatures that exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
In a statement released to media, NutriAsia “categorically denie[d] claims that endo [was] being practiced by its service provider/toll packer,” and said the striking workers were “cajoled, and joined by [militant] groups […] to commit prohibited activities,” including forming a picket line that prohibited entry to and exit from the plant, hence the request for police to secure the premises.
Police, meanwhile, said that the commotion started when the workers threw rocks at them when they went to the picket line to serve the 20-day temporary restraining order issued June 8 by a Bulacan court. At least 10 workers were injured and four arrested during the dispersal.
The truth may be somewhere in the three versions of events given by the workers, the company and the police, but the labor department’s web page dated Feb. 23, 2018, gives a clearer picture.
According to DOLE, NutriAsia and its three contractors — Alternative Network Resources Unlimited Multipurpose Cooperative, Serbiz Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and B-Mirk Enterprises Corp. — “were found violating labor laws and general labor standards, and engaged in labor-only contracting activities.”
A compliance order, in fact, had been issued to the company by DOLE Regional Office 4A Director Zenaida Angara-Campita, directing it to give regular employment status to 914 of its workers. The company has only about 100 regular employees.
The NutriAsia strike and its underlying causes are not an isolated case, given the country’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent and underemployment rate of 18.3 percent as of 2016, according to government figures.
With around 2.4 million jobless workers and 7.5 million others looking for additional working hours for extra income, many workers are forced to put up with abuses, deplorable working conditions and meager pay to keep their jobs, knowing that millions out there are just waiting to take their place.
That is, until they reach a breaking point and become so desperate for change that they use their only bargaining chip: the right to strike and air their grievances.
But that such a right would be met with violence shows just how ineffectual the country’s labor mechanisms are in resolving conflicts.
Did it have to come to this? Why issue compliance orders in the first place if companies can just willy-nilly ignore them?
Worse, why employ violence against workers already aggrieved by shabby working conditions?
No wonder the Philippines recently earned another dubious distinction: as one of the 10 worst countries in the world for workers’ rights, with Filipino workers more likely to experience “violence” and “intimidation and reprisals,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation’s 2018 Global Rights Index.
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