Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Strikers being starved using covid lockdown as cover

Workers of garments factory Sejung Apparel Inc. have been on picket-protest since December. In recognition of the need to maintain social distancing, the number of people at the picketline was reduced by the union. From March 27 until today, all attempts to bring food and water to Jackie Elorde and Amer Taluba, the two workers at the picketline, have been stopped by security guards.

Sejung Apparel is a Korean-owned garments factory at the First Cavite Industrial Estate (FCIE) in Dasmarinas, Cavite (part of the industrial region just outside the capital Metro Manila). Guards have maintained a 24/7 cordon sanitaire around the picketline in violation of the 2011 Guidelines on the Conduct of Security Personnel During Labor Disputes which mandate that police, military and guards should be 50 meters away and not interfere in peaceful picketing. It appears that FCIE wants to starve Jackie and Amer into submission so as to dismantle the picketline.

On the morning of March 27, the union president Jopay Odchimar was prevented by FCIE guards from returning to the picketline to bring food. The guards said that this was upon the orders of FCIE estate manager Raffy Malanyaon and alleged due to the covid quarantine. However, workers continued to go in and out of the FCIE that day as the export processing zone was not shuttered.

After a standoff from morning to afternoon, the union president agreed not to proceed to prevent further argument. That night, FCIE guards stopped water from being given by friends from nearby factories allegedly upon the orders of the estate manager.

This is a clear case of harassment by the FCIE estate manager under the cover of the covid lockdown. Freedom of association and labor rights—including the guidelines on the conduct of security personnel—have not been revoked or suspended just because a quarantine is in effect. From a labor dispute the case has morphed into humanitarian issue.

The labor dispute is due to union busting and also non-payment of 13th month pay and last salary. For more than four months, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) provincial and regional office has not acted on the clear case of labor standards violation despite undertaking an inspection. The case has dragged on for so long that the covid pandemic and the resulting quarantine has further aggravated the sufferings of the workers.

Sejung Apparel has declared temporary shutdown for three times since October. The first shutdown occurred just one week after the union submitted a collective bargaining proposal and just three weeks after the union won the certification election. Again, the circumstances point to union busting by management. But action by the DOLE has been lacking to protect freedom of association at the export processing zones.

We call on the DOLE to act immediately to bring food and water to Jackie and Amer. Further, we call on FCIE to stop the harassment of the Sejung workers and respect the right to peaceful picketing. ###

April 8, 2020

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