Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 23 July 13 - 19, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
the banana plantations of Southern Mindanao, thousands of contractual workers
have been virtually reduced to slaves, abused with impunity by their employers.
It’s a cruel cycle that does not seem to end for these workers as a result of
the government’s contractualization policy.
CARLOS H. CONDE
Davao del Norte – Virgilio Tandayag, a 52-year-old worker in a banana
plantation in this town, fondly remembers when he was still a regular worker. He
started working in the plantation in the early 1980s and, by 1989, he was
earning P112 a day.
had SSS (Social Security System) benefits, housing, (as well as) sick and
vacation leaves,” he said. His salary was enough to put decent food on the
table and, most important to him, send his children to school.
“good life” lasted for eight years. Then, in 1989, the company, one of the
largest exporters of Cavendish banana in the country, started retrenching its
employees. “I took the early-retirement option, thinking that I could make
good with the few thousands the company gave me,” Virgilio said.
went downhill from there for Virgilio and his family. By 1992, he was so
distraught he decided to swallow his pride and reapply at the company. However,
he was hired only as a contractual worker.
more than a decade after he was retrenched, and at a time when inflation has
eroded the value of the peso, Virgilio is earning a measly P80 a day working in
the banana fields of this town.
four children are the hardest hit. Virgilio could only support them up to high
school. The eldest, 24, ended up getting married without finishing college.
poverty, Virgilio said in Visayan, is palpable at home. “We sometimes have to
make do with nothing but rice. Oftentimes, we didn’t even have rice. Some of
us sometimes would cook the raw banana so we could eat,” he said, shaking his
head. “I can’t believe I got myself into this.”
that Virgilio had any choice. All over the Southern Mindanao region, all
plantations have been firing, dismissing or retrenching their workers and then
hiring them back as contractuals. Their contracts would last no longer than six
months, the maximum period allowed by law that a company can hire contractuals
or probationary workers.
has been a constant source of anxiety for us,” said Henry Ibajan, a
33-year-old harvester and father of two children in another plantation, where he
earns P100 a day. “We are constantly wondering whether we would be able to
retain our jobs a few months from now. There’s no such thing as job security
to Romualdo Basilio, chairperson of the Kumilos Labor Center based in Tagum
City, half of the banana workers in Region XI are contractuals. In Compostela
Valley and Davao del Norte provinces, there are more than 32,000 agricultural
workers, practically all of them working in the 54 banana plantations in the two
daily wage range from P80 to P230. Under the law, agricultural workers should be
receiving a minimum daily wage of P183. Even then, that minimum wage is not
enough, which is why workers nationwide are demanding a legislated wage increase
you look at the real situation in the plantations, it is very depressing,”
Basilio said. “The workers are always worried that they may lose their jobs
just like that. The low pay and the fact that there’s just too many people out
there who are willing to settle for P80 a day or less just to survive – this
makes the workers ignore the abuses of the companies,” he said.
situation, as shown in the case of Virgilio Tandayog, translates to real misery
for the workers and their families, Basilio said. “They don’t have enough
food. Because of that, their children get sick. When they are sick, they don’t
have medical insurance. It’s a trap, when you really think about it.”
they cannot complain about their predicament, Basilio said, because the company
can easily fire a worker. “Nobody wants that to happen…so the cycle
continues,” Basilio said.
from the low wages and complete absence of benefits for contractual workers,
only one worker tends to every hectare of the 32,000-or-so-hectare plantations
in Davao Del Norte and Compostela Valley, according to data from the Kilusang
Mayo Uno (KMU) in Region XI. “Based on this data,” the KMU said, “the
workers, especially the contractuals, are abused and exploited.” The group
called contractualization a “terrorist policy of the government.”
is implemented even if banana exporters are earning so much. As an example,
Basilio noted that the Tagum Development Corporation produces 55 million boxes
of banana each year, which translates to a revenue of P80 billion annually.
contractualization of labor in the plantations is implemented through schemes
like growerships, joint ventures, cooperatives or a combination of these
schemes. In all these schemes, the company is shielded from its responsibility
to its workers. In one case, the company enters into a growership agreement with
a landowner, who hires the contractual workers. Technically, the workers are not
employees of the company.
betrays the scheme, however, is that the company, in many cases, would supply
the materials, equipment, even payroll to the landowner. In many instances, the
workers even punch their timecards in the company’s time-card machines.
short, the growership agreement is just a scheme to give the appearance that the
company is merely engaged in a business deal with the landowner when, in truth,
the company owns and manages everything.
make matters worse, and precisely because contractual workers have no power in
this scheme, they are subjected to all forms of abuse. Workers are afraid to be
absent from work for fear of being fired. “One time, I had fever and I wanted
to take the day off but I couldn’t because that would be a minus point for me.
I was afraid that they would advise me to resign,” Virgilio said. And so, just
like him, workers who feel ill would pretend to be all right and kept on
working. The downside, of course, is that if the illness gets worse, workers
have no medical benefits from the company.
it is common in the banana plantations that the supervisors also run the stores
from where the workers get practically all their supplies – food, medicine,
clothes, even appliances. Because their wages are so low, the workers are almost
always in debt to the store. A take-home pay, said Virgilio Tandayog, is an
alien concept to the workers. “I have forgotten how a P10 bill looks like. I
didn’t even know that there is now a P10 coin,” he joked.
store takes advantage of this by charging unreasonably high prices for the
goods. For example, a kilo of NFA rice that normally costs no more than P20 in
an ordinary store would sell for P27 at the plantation store, or an appliance
worth P17,000 would sell for P29,000.
if these were not enough, the salaries are rarely on time. “The salary delays
can go from three months to six months,” said Henry. Which is why the workers
have no choice but to rely on the store, whose income is assured because its
owners know that the workers would be forced to work in the plantation if only
to pay off their debts.
cruel paradox is that, the more the workers work for such a measly and delayed
pay, the more they get buried in debt. The more their debts pile up, the more
they become desperate to hold on to whatever job is available, never mind if
they get abused and exploited with impunity.
the workers could not complain because their supervisors could just easily fire
them. Indeed, according to several banana plantation workers interviewed by Bulatlat.com,
they have learned to take every abuse silently.
have no choice,” said Gilbert Ongayo, a 28-year-old banana plantation worker
from this town. “If we complain, the company will be more than happy to get
rid of us. There are hundreds of workers looking for jobs in banana plantations,
workers who are probably more desperate than us. What can we do?” Bulatlat.com
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