March 11, 2009
A labor dispute is festering at the Keppel ship repair facilities in Cebu that may soon erupt into a strike. The management of Keppel shipyard wants to shift from ship repair to ship building and in the process downsize its workforce. The Keppel labor union is however resisting management attempt to layoff workers.
“Keppel is using the global crisis as an alibi to destroy the union and replace regular jobs with contractual workers,” Roger Igot, president of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Baradero (Keppel Shipyard)-National Federation of Labor alleged. As an initial protest, members of the Keppel union stayed overnight inside the shipyard facilities yesterday and will continue the mass action today when their shift ends. “We sacrificed quality time with our families in order to protect the security of our jobs,” Igot explained.
Last February 20, management proposed a plan for forced leave but the union disagreed citing the heavy presence of contractual workers. The proposal did not push through. Then on February 27, management offered a voluntary resignation package which the union also rejected because it shortchanged the workers. The same day, in a preventive mediation hearing at the National Mediation and Conciliation Board, the workers questioned management’s move to hire new contractuals without informing the union as stipulated in their collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Last Monday, management threatened the workers that it will file redundancy if they do not avail of the resignation package.
“There is no basis for redundancy since ship building will require more not less workers compared to ship repair even if they introduce new machines since it is intrinsically labor intensive. The real issue is that management wants to squeeze more profit by cheapening labor costs. Management pays a regular Keppel worker much higher wages and benefits compared to a contractual laborer who makes do with below minimum wages and no benefits,” Igot insisted.
Tomorrow a rally in support of the Keppel union will be held by affiliates of the Solidarity of Cebu Workers, displaced Cebu workers and members of the Partido ng Manggagawa. They will picket outside the gates of the Keppel shipyard in solidarity with the workers staying inside the compound.
The union also says that there are no signs that Keppel is bleeding. It will pay profit sharing later this week. There is an ongoing shipyard development project worth P300 million. While an incentive bonus was released last February.
The union also assails management for bad faith in negotiations since its statements are contradictory. Igot added that “Management intends to deceive the workers if they can get away with it. In our CBA negotiations in June of last year, they were saying that we need not worry since more workers will be hired when Keppel turns to ship building.”
The union believes that despite the global crisis, Keppel’s business remains strong and any supposed business losses due to the global crisis are just an alibi to get rid of the regular workforce and bust the union.