“It’s as if they’re just playing with us workers.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Mining worker and union leader Ronald Langit would have been home in Caraga Region this week if contractualization had been put to an end as President Duterte promised.
Instead, he and other mining workers from the mining capital of the Philippines went through so much trouble to be in Metro Manila weeks before Duterte’s second SONA. Difficulties tailed them from Surigao to Manila but they pressed on with their Manilakbayan.
They camped out in front of the Department of Labor and Employment from July 10 to 16, then from July 17 to the morning of the SONA day at Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang. A year since Duterte came to power, they are still raising calls against contractualization. Dubbed as KamPOBREro, they hoped it will give Duterte’s labor officials enough opportunities to tackle and settle with the workers their long-drawn out cases in the department.
“From the time we were at the pier we met with untold difficulties,” Langit said. He came from Mindanao which is under martial law. Other workers who set out to march with him to Manila did not make it past the police in the pier. These workers failed to show government-issued IDs that under martial law they are required to present to the police when asked. Other unionists suffered the force of martial law when it was used to break up their strike.
To Langit and his fellow mine workers fighting contractualization, Martial law has only sharpened the teeth and fangs of anti-unionism. “Even before the imposition of martial law, we were already battling union-busting on many fronts. A small mistake of any union member could result in month-long suspension.”
Now, he said, they are still battling contractualization, but the worse thing is it is expanding. Even without martial law, Langit and the other mine workers in the camp out reported that employers arbitrarily force regular workers to move into non-regular work. Or, the company removes them from under its direct employ by contracting out their jobs.
In Greenstone, the workers union president, Vernie Larase, also shared their experiences. Every time the Australian-owned gold mining operation is threatened with closure or suspension after failing to comply with environmental standards, the workers invariably get to suffer more.
While Redfive’s Greenstone and other companies continuously dig for gold ores and process it to export high-quality gold, the workers are kept in contractual and low-paying jobs. But when the company’s tailings pond, for example, showed cracks and Greenstone was forced to repair or build a new one, workers were told to live without work and pay for months.
When Greenstone’s operation was suspended again by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently after it failed to get an Environmental Compliance Certificate due to its defective tailings pond, it gave orders to suspend the workers as well for six months.
But on its second month, the workers’ suspension was turned into retrenchment last February. Yet, the unionists said, Greenstone appears headed to reopening. “It still has so much gold to dig up in the mine site,” Larase said. The unionists suspect that the company is merely capitalizing on its temporary setback with the DENR to further contractualize its workforce and get rid of the union.
Like other unionists in the mining sector in Caraga, Larase saw a pattern: the companies are further increasing contractualization in its workforce; they’re terminating the regulars and increasingly resorting to contractuals from manpower agencies.
“It’s as if they’re just playing with us workers,” said Vernie Larase, 32, union president of workers union in Greenstone. In participating in kamPOBREro and People’s Sona 2017, Larase said, they hope not only to regain their jobs, as regular, and keep on union-building. They are seeking the Labor department’s action on their mine company’s notice of termination which, they said, has no just basis. “The mining company is neither losing money nor closing down.”
The plight of the mining workers and unionists from Caraga gives a concrete example of one of Ibon’s conclusions in its recent briefing: “Despite growth reported as among the fastest in the world, the economy actually shed jobs with less employment since April last year.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported lower unemployment and underemployment (5.7% and 16.1%, respectively) in April 2017 compared to the previous year. Yet, based on these official figures, IBON estimates that the number of employed Filipinos actually fell by 393,000 to 40.3 million in April 2017 from 40.7 million the year before.
Terminated without just grounds to pave way for increased contractuals?
Ronald Langit, 48, union president of workers of Mark Venture Development Corp., came from a family with members working or who have worked in mines. He worked for mining companies in Carrascal, Surigao del Sur for 10 years now, driving dump trucks loaded with soil with assayed high nickel content. His father was an engineer in Marinduque Mining from the 70s to early 2000s. His brother works at Hinatuan where they have a union affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno with improved wages and benefits compared to other mining companies.
In Carrascal, there are three nickel mining companies, two of which have unions and both are fighting for survival even as the mine companies are continuing or even expanding operations. Both unions sent representatives at the weeks-long campout in Manila.
Langit has worked for six years from Mark Ventures Mining Development Corp. Mark Ventures has 1,200 workforce but most were casual or contractual workers. Only 271 were regular and considered voting members at the time.
Their union succeeded in its second attempt since 2013 to become formally recognized by the Labor department, but its effort to bargain collectively for improved wages and benefits is meeting strong opposition from the management. In their first try to form a union most of the union officers were suspended while the management “interfered” with the campaign in the certification election, Langit said.
In their second attempt, they succeeded at getting their union certified but it was followed by reprisals, including the termination of unionists such as Langit. They were punished for opposing their “lateral transfer” to a contractor. If they did not oppose it, they would have been summarily turned to regular contractuals.
Langit and other unionists in the campout said companies are now seeking to further contractualize their workforce using the Labor department DO 174. That’s why they have “lateral transfer” In Mark Ventures. There are similar moves in Clarence T. Pimentel Mining Corp., and in the gold mining Greenstone.
Larase, union president of workers in Greenstone, a company under Australian mining firm Redfive, told Bulatlat that if the Duterte administration has worked to end contractualization, they would not have gone to Manila to camp out and march.
He said the real “Maute” or terrorists are the huge corporations seeking to reduce the workers’ wages and benefits to the lowest possible rates through contractualization and union-busting.
Larase said they have camped out in Caraga labor department since April to oppose the illegal termination of hundreds of Greenstone regular and unionized employees.
It appears that under the Duterte administration and particularly its DO 174, workers are further being pushed into contractual jobs. Unions fighting to make their contractuals regular after they stayed beyond six months on the job are being terminated, as do the unionists such as Larase in Greenstone.