Prioritize assistance to banana farm workers in Pablo affected areas- group

THE Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA urged today the government to prioritize in providing immediate and long term assistance to banana farm workers and their families in Pablo affected areas in Compostela Valley, instead of assisting exploitative big banana planters which includes multinational and local companies.

Most of the workers and their families had been reduced to begging, while banana planters have previously earned millions of pesos from exploitative practices they imposed on them and even on growers who leased their lands to such companies as Standard (Philippines) Incorporated or Stanfilco which is under Dole Philippines, Inc. Dole chalked up global net revenue of $7.6 billion in 2008.

Many farm workers were forcibly transformed from regular to contractual workers through a scheme as Freight-on-Board (FOB). As such their pay was reduced and their benefits such as overtime and hazard pay were scrapped.

Stanfilco also implemented the growership system which resulted in the retrenchment of 2000 of its workers in 2005. At the same time it reneged in its promise to provide financial assistance to small farm owners or growers and just dictated the price of bananas they produced.

Other big banana planters in Comval are Marsman-Drysdale Group and Dizon Farms. The first is a multinational company with interests in the agribusiness, food processing, medical equipment, telecommunications, tourism, mining and investment management business. While the second has farms in Davao, Bukidnon, Pampanga, and Mindoro Occidental and has diversified in other fruits and vegetables.

Clearly the initial P5.5 million allotted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to workers of a Korean owned Freshmax Corporation in Compostela Valley is not enough. The government should increase this as this is only for 15 days and should not prioritize the company in needing $1.2M to rehabilitate its banana plantation.

Freshmax Corporation’s plantation occupies 130 hectares, producing an estimated 1,200 boxes of bananas daily. On November 13, 2012 the workers under Freshmax Workers Union-National Federation of Labor Unions-KMU held a strike. This is because the management refused the workers’ proposal for a P30 ($0.71) daily wage increase and a one sack of rice per month allowance. The company also refused to allow benefits such as sick leave and union leave.

To prioritize assistance to such exploitative companies would only reinforce the perception of the majority of the affected masses that the government is more pro-business than pro-people.

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