Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cebu workers campaign for bailout scheme as tens of thousands affected by layoffs and rotations

Press Release
December 17, 2008

The militant labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) in Cebu said that in the Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ), employers axed 4,000 jobs and shortened workdays for 27,000 workers in the last quarter of this year. The group warned that the attacks on living and working conditions would intensify as global crisis deepens next year but also predicted that workers would resist and fight.

More than 200 MEPZ workers gathered yesterday afternoon at Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City to establish the Save the Workers Initiative in Mepz or SWIM. As an organization that embraces both unionized and non-unionized workers, SWIM aims principally to campaign for a bail-out scheme for workers affected by the crisis. “In the midst of the global crisis, if the workers don’t swim then they would sink,” said Dennis Derige, Spokesperson of PM-Cebu.

PM revealed that employers in the electronics, garments and furniture industries are in the forefront of reducing the work force and the working days. The group mentioned as examples the factories Lear, Taiyu-Den, Exas, Toyo-Flex, Maithland Smith, Altamode, KH, PPIC, POIC and GIC. Workers in car parts manufacturing and even call centers such as IZUMI and Western Wats also suffered the same problems.

The group also said that in Mandaue City 600 workers lost their jobs while 700 were affected by forced leaves, rotations and shortened workdays. PM cited Giardini Del Sole, COSONSA, Arkaine, Neostone, President Marine and Energizer as cases in point.

Resort workers in Lapu-Lapu City are also feeling the brunt of the crisis as their workdays were cut down to 4 or 5 days a week. PM said that it is a sign that Cebu’s tourism industry is careening towards trouble.

“These figures are an underestimation since it is limited by our organizational reach and chapter reports. We must access the data of DOLE –Region 7 for the past three months to see the more complete picture,” Derige explained.

PM also noted that some companies in MEPZ did not follow procedures and standards in terminating employees as stipulated in the Labor Code. The required 30 days notice prior to termination were not observed; a blackmail scheme of “resign or retrench” were resorted to in order that employers could evade paying separation benefits in the amount of half month per year of service; and regular workers were laid off while a huge force of agency workers were maintained. “The workers are being killed twice! First, we are being forced to bear the crisis that is not of our own making, stripping us of our right to live. Second, and this angers us the most, capitalists are using the crisis as an excuse to violate labor standards and labor rights, stripping us of what is due to us and greedily pocketing them as bigger profits,” lamented Derige.

However, PM also observed that the workers are not taking these attacks sitting down. Workers in MEPZ are beginning to discuss in their canteens, workplaces and communities the courses of action to be taken. “We have monitored a 20% rise in the number of labor cases filed before the National Labor Relations Commission–RAB 7. We also noticed a barrage of labor standard–related inquiries by the workers at the office of DOLE–Region 7. Soon this will erupt into a formidable movement pushing for the workers alternative solution to the crisis,” asserted Greg Janginon, President of PM–Cebu.

Besides calling on the government for bailout measures for workers, the objectives of SWIM are:

1. Serve as a watch-dog on employers’ abuses and violations of labor standards and labor relations;
2. Organize MEPZ workers in a common fight against the attacks on living and working conditions;
3. Educate the workers on existing labor laws;
4. Provide legal assistance; and
5. Call for system change as the long term solution to the crisis.

Lucena Sellar, a worker from MEPZ states that “Government should do its job of saving the workers. Workers have faithfully financed the government through taxes, now it is time for the state help the workers through subsidies, tax rebates and a massive public employment program.”

PM criticized DOLE’s program for the affected workers as “not enough and too bureaucratic.” The group argued that the Workers’ Income-Augmentation Program (WIN-AP) is limited only to unionized workers who still have jobs while the Assistance Measure Program or (AMP) for displaced workers is so slow that upon the release of the assistance funds, the affected workers and their families are already starving to death. Also the PhP 5,000 livelihood assistance per displaced worker is full of conditions and is almost inaccessible to an unorganized worker. Furthermore, AMP has an allotment of PhP 1 million so that only 200 workers can avail of the said program.

“The company which I’m working with right now has 11,000 workers. If our company goes bankrupt then DOLE’s program is too insufficient. What we need is a major redirection of government’s budget appropriation from debt servicing to social services,” Sellar emphasized.

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