February 17, 2010
Tension erupted at the picket line set up by protesting workers of Alta Mode Inc., a garments factory in the Mactan Economic Zone (MEZ) II and subcontractor for global brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch. At 10 a.m. this morning some 20 blue guards of MEZ II tried to disperse around 90 workers manning the Alta Mode Workers Union (AMWU) picket line at the main gates of MEZ II. The workers held their ground, locked their arms in formation and used their motorcycles as barricade.
The conflict subsided when the blue guards did not force their way. Instead Allan Baylon, Administrator of MEZ II Acoland, the lessor of the export zone, opened negotiations with the protesting workers. The workers compromised and agreed to move their picket line by 2 meters from the gates.
In return the workers got a commitment from Baylon that they will not be disturbed and the picket line will be respected. “Acoland wanted us to move away from their private property but that would mean relocating to the highway, blocking traffic and inconveniencing the public. But our fight is not with the government but with Alta Mode which a locator of Acoland in the MEZ,” explained Renante Pelino, AMWU president.
Renato Magtubo, national chairperson of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), a labor party-list group supporting the Alta Mode workers, argued that constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly should take precedence over the right to private property. “But in privately owned export zones and industrial estates, the workers right to strike and protest is effectively negated by blue guards enforcing the property rights of landlords. Workers cannot set up a picket line outside the factory because the sidewalks are private property. Workers cannot even hold a protest inside the industrial estates since they can be refused entry by blue guards again on the alibi of private property. In the privately owned export zones and industrial estates, the rights protected by the Constitution are suspended for all intents and purposes,” insisted Magtubo.
Pelino clarified that the workers are not yet on strike and instead they have been locked out by Alta Mode and refused entry by MEZ guards. AMWU is demanding that they be accepted back to work in the face of the planned closure of the factory on March 15. Workers do not believe that Alta Mode is losing and instead accusing management of union busting.
Tomorrow morning the workers will troop to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) office in Cebu City as per notice of Alta Mode management that wages and benefits will be disbursed there. The Alta Mode workers have not yet revealed whether they will hold a protest at the DOLE office or attend the proceedings.