Workers stage a strike in the PHL largest oil palm plantations

WORKERS and families from Filipinas Palmoil Plantation, Inc. (FPPI), Agusan Plantation, Inc. (API), and AGUMILL located at Rosario and Trento, Agusan del Sur, Caraga Region, Philippines staged a simultaneous strike on Tuesday, November 27, against what they called gross violations of labour standards and mass termination of 252 casual employees at FPPI last October 25 and 15 workers from API  following the Labor Department’s ocular inspection on long term casualization at FPPI.

More than half of FPPI’s 1000 estimated workforce are casuals, with employment services ranging from 5 to 29 years.

On October 23-24, 2012, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)  conducted an ocular inspection and confirmed the workers allegations that two palm oil giants are violating labor standards. However, the two companies reportedly asked the workers covered by the inspection to sign waiver recanting the DOLE’s findings but refused were dismissed outright and threatened to evict from the houses they were occupying.

Rexon Generol for instance, a harvester, and started working at FPPI at the age of 14 was dismissed after he testified in a CTUHR Public Forum on Child Labor in Manila that his status remains casual after his 27 years of employment, and was only paid Php150 a day, or mere 58% of prescribed minimum wage, sans the other legally mandated benefits.

One month into unemployment, terminated workers cringe from deprivation of livelihood, lack of food while children stopped going to school.

“The failure of the law and government mechanisms to protect the workers from the management retaliatory actions such as dismissal from work  after they testify in a government investigation or in a public forum  embolden the employers and corporations to violate the workers rights with impunity”, says  Daisy Arago, executive director of labor rights organization, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR).  “At the same time, it reduces the workers to silence and accept even the most inhumane conditions at work, while companies enjoy the profits they gained from repressed workers. DOLE, has to do more than recording its findings”, Arago added.

Striking workers also decry the three companies discriminatory practices such as 1) Underpayment of wages; 2) absence of mandatory social security benefits, Philhealth (health) and Pag-ibig (housing) premium; 3) Non-payment of Holiday Pay,  13th month pay; 5) Non-implementation of service incentive Leave ; 6) absence of rest day; 7) Non-provision of Personal Protective Equipment’s (PPE’s) against 600  FPPI workers, 100 API workers  and 50 AGUMILL workers.

In addition, workers who are also union members complain about violations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) including non-regularization of the casual workers who have been in the company for more than six months as provided by law. Also included in the list of violations are: non replacement of retired workers, failure to do  Housing repair, absence of  potable water in plantation covered areas, failure to provide Production and Safety Equipment resulting to accidents and injuries, termination of 4 union members,  exclusion of  more than 200 workers from CBA benefits  2007 to 2011; 8) on-payment of backwages from 2007 – 2011, delays in payment of wages, non-implementation of government mandated wage increases, and others.

`The workers could no longer endure the inhumane treatment that they get from the companies, they have suffered so long, says Jacinto Tanduyan, Secretary –General of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Caraga, from which the three local unions are affiliated. Tanduyan added, that what the workers were asking are simply the implementation the  laws , but it is apparent that even the Department of Labor and Employment could not do anything or has not done what is expected to do to implement the law. Jacinto further noted that the companies have grown bigger, but the workers had been pushed deeper into poverty due to the companies arrogant refusal to abide by the law, a concrete indicator, is the rise in the number of child labor in 15,000 hectares of oil palm plantations managed, owned or supplying for FPPI, API and Agumill.

CTUHR recent study reveals that 24% of workers in the oil palm plantations are children aged 17 years and below, doing back breaking jobs with wages ranging from Php25.00 to Php 150 a day.

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