INDUSTRIAL peace will continue to prevail in the banana industry, at least at Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (Mepi), where everyone can heave a sigh of relief after its management and agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) have reached yet another milestone in their decades-long partnership.
Both parties recently signed a new agribusiness venture agreement (AVA) that will provide banana farm workers an improved package of land rental, salaries and benefits that are above industry standards.
The Mepi management and members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (Damarb) described the amended AVA as a "win-win" solution that would guarantee the ARBs an unmatched array of benefits, which include a signing bonus and retroactive and advance rental payments for each ARB-signatory amounting to P105,000 as well as a regular monthly income for each of them.
The new agreement, which was signed June 1 provides for the payment for land rental of P50,000 per hectare per year plus an escalation of P10,000 every five years, which is more than double the industry average.
"For all ARBs, this will total P40 million per annum for the first five years alone, and getting higher as the escalation takes effect," said Antero Sison Jr., Mepi president, who reported this positive development in a letter dated June 21 to President Rodrigo Duterte
On top of getting pay and benefits that are way above industry standards, ARBs and their families in the Mepi banana farm also enjoy educational and health care coverage; generous vacation and sick leaves with pay; housing, meal and medical allowances; performance, production, Christmas, Labor Day and longevity bonuses; life and accident insurance; and retirement benefits.
As of this writing, 489 out of the 793 ARBs have already signed the amended agreement. At least 18 more ARBs who are residing outside Davao del Norte and/or are sick or incapacitated have committed to sign through their representatives.
"As your Excellency has voiced in a number of occasions, the Republic continues to be run under democratic principles and hence, the wishes of the majority must prevail," Sison said in the same letter.
As part of Mepi's continued commitment to social responsibility, the new pact also grants medical/death benefits for retired ARBs, which are beyond the provisions of the existing collective bargaining agreement.
The guaranteed monthly income for each ARB that would take effect starting January next year will come from an "innovative monthly rental payment scheme" that was agreed upon by the Mepi and the beneficiaries.
Hernando Rivero, chair of the Damarb board, said the organization's members find the amended agreement "to be reasonable and economically beneficial for themselves, the community, the banana industry and the government."
The amended lease AVA ensures that more than 1,800 employees of Mepi would get to keep their jobs, which will, in turn, benefit nearly 8,000 dependents.
Even other ARBs belonging to the minority groups, such as the Santo Tomas Individual Farmers Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (SIFARBCO) and Sto. Tomas Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (STARBENCO) may also avail themselves of this unprecedented increase in benefits by merely proposing to MEPI the same amendments to their lease AVA.
Sison has informed the President that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), which had recommended the cancellation of the lease AVA, "has also been notified of the win-win solution through a letter sent by Damarb on June 3, 2017."
MEPI also followed this up with a separate notification to DAR on June 5.
With the President's support, the Mepi and the ARBs "look forward to finally putting this controversy to rest with the interest of all concerned parties accordingly addressed, most especially the economic welfare of the ARBs."