ONE of President Duterte's promise to workers is being broken in Compostela Valley.
The promise is to end Endo, the unfair scheme of labor contractualization. Last March 16, an order from the labor department was released, Department Order 174, to ban labor-only contracting, hence all companies must regularized its contractual employees.
But something happened in the South Korean banana plantation Shin Sun Tropical Fruits in Compostela, Compostela Valley. Late last March, it terminated 80 contractual workers, including 53 union members.
The union, guided by Kilusang Mayo Uno, said the termination is illegal. Many of the laid off workers have been working as long-time contractual workers for Shin Sun for two to seven years. The keyword is long-time, hence, the company has been violating labor laws on regularizing its workers.
The Labor Code stipulated that contractual workers must be regularized by its employers after six months. The Code and the new DO 174, clearly states that employers, Shin Sun in this case, and not the labor agency should declare them as their regular employees.
But what happened instead is the management hired new contractual workers from a different agency.
This has forced the terminated workers to declare a strike starting April 6 for unfair labor practice, which is guaranteed under the Labor Code, and has set its strike camp blocking the Shin Sun gates to demand for their reinstatement as regular workers.
The strike is going on for six weeks. Management has filed a case in court that led to the police and military attempting to disperse the strike camp. But this move misses the main issue, and that is the compliance of labor laws.
There is concern from industry watchers that the strike is making the agribusiness industry look bad. South Korea is the third biggest buyer of Philippine bananas next to China and Japan. In 2015, it brought around 12 percent of the country's banana exports worth $51.6 million.
But industrial peace comes when both sides come to agreement. One has to consider balancing not only the interest of capitalists, but also of agri-workers, whose means to survive amidst massive land conversion is to give their labor force for companies who earn millions. Workers have only been receiving piecemeal from millions of pesos of profits. Shin Sun workers said their daily wage is at 258 pesos, way below the regional minimum of 340 pesos. Even if the company will comply with regularizing them and give them the minimum wage, they will spend around 700,000 pesos a month for 80 regular workers.
This is a challenge on the Labor Department to come and intervene. This is also a test case for the Duterte administration, says Kilusang Mayo Uno, on their resolve to end contractualization for the benefit of the workers.