Tuesday, February 3, 2009

First strike vs. layoffs erupts at Cebu

Press Release
February 3, 2009

In the first such case since the onset of the global crisis in the country, workers of a furniture exporting firm in Mandaue City went on strike against the massive layoffs and successfully paralyzed operations of the factory.

“After exhausting all avenues for conflict resolution for almost a whole month, we are forced to hold the strike in order to push for our demand that workers be able to continue their work and earn a living,” stated Primitivo Ginoo, Jr., president of the Nagkahiusang Puwersa nga Mamumuo sa Giardini (NPMG), the union at the Giardini del Sole. Giardini del Sole is one of the biggest furniture exporters in the country.

The strike started early morning of Tuesday with around a hundred workers of Giardini del Sole, and supporters coming from Partido ng Manggawa (PM) and other factories picketing the five gates of the factory. There was no violence and untoward incidents as the remaining non-union employees and even supervisors sympathized with the striking workers.

“This is a strike to preserve jobs. This is a struggle for our families’ right to live. This is a fight for the rights of all workers,” explained Eulito Fin Jr., vice president of NPMG.

In an expression of support, PM chair Renato Magtubo, said the strike at Giardini del Sole “is the first but will not be the last. We call on government to heed the workers demand for a bailout and subsidy. We warn capitalists against exploiting the crisis to undercut workers rights and labor standards.”

The union is demanding that management implement the agreement for work rotation instead of forced leave. The agreement was forged between the union and the management last January 8 at the National Concilliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) but the latter has since then reneged on its commitments. The union in response then filed a notice of strike last January 22 on the basis of union busting, alleging that management is using the impact of the crisis as an excuse to dismiss all union officers and members. The members of NPMG voted 70 for and none against holding a strike in the voting conducted last January 23.

“As a sign of management’s intransigence, they boycotted the meeting called yesterday by the NCMB in a last-minute bid to settle the dispute. This is consistent with their hardline position against allowing union members to return to work on a job-sharing scheme,” Fin elaborated.

The union also belied the claim of Mr. Boschi, the owner of Giardini del Sole, that he cannot allow the return of more workers since the firm is only wrapping up production on the remaining unfinished furniture. But Ginoo said even the media had seen that wood used as raw materials were still being delivered by trucks to the factory a week ago.

“We are more than willing to lift the strike but only if as many workers as possible are allowed to return to work. We would like to work again at Giardini del Sole but only with our heads held up not bowed down,” asserted Ginoo.

The union leader said the fight of Giardini workers is the fight of all workers. “We are asking for the solidarity of our fellow workers for we can only win this struggle with your support. We are also appealing for help from the local government of Mandaue for we are your constituents not this foreigner who harbors great disrespect to labor rights.”

The labor dispute at Giardini del Sole started last January 5 when more than 300 Giardini workers held an impromptu protest at the factory gates upon learning that only 100 employees were allowed to work after returning from the holiday break. That same afternoon, they marched to the NCMB office and after several days of protest, the union was able to clinch an agreement for work rotation, financial assistance, release of backwages, and for no compulsory terminations.

PM is pushing for a bailout and stimulus package for workers and the poor that includes the following: subsidy from SSS, GSIS and OWWA for workers who will be laid off due to the crisis; tax refund for all workers equivalent to two months wage; and reform and expansion of the public employment program for the unemployed.

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