July 15, 2009
Four weeks of work stoppage over the suspension of seven leaders of the Paul Yu Workers Association ended last week with the workers accepting management’s offer of separation. In the agreement, 114 regular and contractual workers and 120 agency workers will receive 18 days per year of service in separation pay and a lump sum of P50,000 for a livelihood project of the association. The settlement is above management’s so-called final offer of 13 days only for regular and contractual workers and none for agency workers.
“This is only a partial victory but a victory nonetheless. We were not able to achieve the demand for reinstatement of suspended workers but the settlement will benefit all Paul Yu workers who participated in the protests including agency workers that management since the start was refusing to include in the terms of agreement. And due to the protests, the rest of the Paul Yu employees are now working five days a week instead of three, which was the main grievance of the workers,” explained Willy Dondoyano, president of the Paul Yu workers association.
The Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) emphasized the fact that the Paul Yu struggle was a breakthrough in the workers movement in the Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ). “This is the definitive end of the era of the MEPZ as a haven for docile labor where capitalists can ride roughshod over workers rights and labor standards without provoking a militant response from the workers. Already we know of at least two factories who sent feelers to their workers who were in the process of organizing that management was willing to meet labor’s demands as long as they do not go the way of Paul Yu. The struggle and sacrifice of the Paul Yu workers will ultimately benefit all the export zone workers,” stated Dennis Derige, spokesperson of PM-Cebu.
Dondoyano added, “A whole month without work and pay took its toll on the workers and their families. Though the workers would have wanted to continue the fight for the maximum demand of lifting of suspensions, we were forced to accept management’s offer of separation so we could have the means to start again. In fact no worker returned to work despite the pressure but some were obliged to look for new work instead of manning the picketlines.”
PM slammed DOLE and PEZA officials for dragging their feet in the case thus weakening the workers negotiating position. “Labor department and export zone officials turned a blind eye to the illegal suspensions and labor standards violations. Even the small victory in the workers claims on unpaid benefits was not enforced by labor officials pending the results of the negotiations on management’s offer of separation,” argued Derige.
Dondoyano thanked the people who supported the struggle. “The support and solidarity of fellow workers inside and outside the MEPZ, labor groups abroad and even media workers who gave a sympathetic coverage of the labor dispute are a crucial factor in sustaining the fight,” he elaborated. In the month-long strike, the Washington DC-based International Labor Rights Forum, Clean Clothes Campaign of Europe, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and the San Francisco Labor Council were among those who sent letters of protests aside from more than a thousand unionists from more than 50 countries who signed the online appeal.