By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — From business reports, it is his strategy of lowering prices to get a niche in the market that has made businessman Alfredo Yao richer and bigger. Since starting in the 80s with Zest-O fruit juices, he has successfully expanded to other multi-million peso businesses such as food sauces, noodles, toothpaste, iced tea, softdrinks and energy drink. In all of these ventures, Yao had seduced buyers with low pricing.
The success of RC Cola under his franchise was dubbed as a “phenomenon.” For the past seven years, RC Cola and other products manufactured by his company Asiawide sold fast in the market.
But what the mainstream business reports often fail to mention is that beneath this glittering success story are issues of underpayment of minimum wages, violations of workers’ rights and trade union repression.
The workers in the Antipolo plant of RC Cola Philippines have been reportedly trying to correct that. Six months ago, they filed for union recognition to be able to formally tackle their working condition and wages with the company management. But instead of granting the recognition and sitting down with the union officials for talks, the company has reportedly implemented “illegal dismissals” of union officers.
In a picket in front of the Rizal office of the Labor Department, the workers of RC Cola from its Antipolo plant expressed anger over the ‘illegal dismissal’ of their union officers.
Two months after the RC Cola workers union, Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa RC Cola, filed for union recognition with the Department of Labor and Employment, the union said, RC Cola management started dismissing from their jobs all their five elected union officers.
The union is an affiliate of the Association of Nationalist and Genuine Labor Organizations (ANGLO), a federation under Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
“RC Cola Philippines has been violating our rights. When we decided to fight back, it only intensified its violation of our rights,” said Bernard Hipolito, union president. He explained that they have realized the need to unite especially when they are being exploited. He reiterated that forming a union is one of their rights.
Workers of RC Cola in Antipolo receive a daily pay of P315 ($7.32), which is below the P337 ($7.72) minimum wage in Region IV. Meanwhile, the company, it noted, is ‘phenomenally’ earning millions of profits. In 2009, RC Cola Philippines posted profits of more than P160 million ($3.72 million).
Minimum wages in the Philippines vary per region, but wages in the national capital and those nearest it are relatively higher.
“The minimum wage in Rizal is a hundred peso lower than the minimum wage in Metro Manila, despite the fact that Rizal is only a few kilometers away from the National Capital Region. And yet, we are still being deprived of that lower minimum wage,” laments Hipolito.
RC Cola Philippines’ major shares are owned by Filipino businessman Alfredo Yao who is also the owner of Zest-O Corporation and the major stakeholder in Zest Airways.
Hipolito said not only were their union officers dismissed, they were also slapped with trumped up charges. But he vowed that their union “will not waver against the company’s harassment and intimidation.” He called on his fellow workers and the people to join them in their quest for union recognition, and in fighting the illegal dismissal of their union officials.