Labor Talks in Near Collapse
Cojuangcos out to close
By failing to settle
the contentious issues in the four-month long strike at Hacienda Luisita,
the Cojuangco-Aquino family has caused a deadlock in the negotiations
between management and striking workers, union leaders say.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City –
Striking workers here said that six grueling negotiations aimed at
settling the four-month long strike of sugar mill and farm workers of
Hacienda Luisita have been derailed by the Cojuangco-Aquino family, owners
of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) sugar plantation and Central Azucarera
de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill and refinery in Tarlac City (120 kms north of
Interviewed at the picketline here,
union leaders said the last negotiations nearly collapsed Feb. 24, when
management refused to give in to workers’ demands to reinstate
unconditionally 73 permanent and seasonal farm workers belonging to the
United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and 35 officers of the CAT Labor Union
(CATLU) earlier dismissed by management.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the
Philippines (CBCP), through Bishops Florentino Cinense and Paciano Aniceto,
along with Tarlac Gov. Jose “Aping” Yap have brokered the negotiations
held since the start of the year in Angeles City and Tarlac.
The deadlock surfaced amid reports
that the Cojuangco-Aquino family who owns the hacienda are set to close
the CAT and go on a land conversion scheme, thus further threatening the
future of the hacienda’s 6,000 plantation and milling workers.
Aside from the demand for
reinstatement of laid-off workers, the negotiations tackled the plantation
workers’ demands for wage increases and additional man-days (working days)
as well as similar wage increases and benefits for the sugar mill workers.
ULWU president Rene “Ka Boyet” Galang,
a permanent worker who was retrenched on Oct. 1 last year while Collective
Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations were ongoing, said management
agreed to reinstate the 30 permanent and 43 seasonal sugar farm workers on
the condition that they would become “mere members” or casual workers
under the HLI Master List.
The CBA of 1993-1996 stated that
Master List members (or casual workers), totaling 4,900, are guaranteed
423,000 man-days for every cropping season or an average 86 man-days for
every worker. This actually meant only one to two man-days a week at
P194.50 a day. Most pay slips of sugar farm workers have revealed,
however, that workers only take home P9.50 a week after loans and social
and health insurance are deducted.
Permanent employees, on the other
hand, work five times a week for the entire cropping season and get P5,800
monthly wage while seasonal workers work five times a week for four months
(during milling season). During off-season, they are casual workers with
only one or two man-days a week.
“Ang mangyayari, makikipag-agawan
pa kami sa isa o dalawang araw na patrabaho sa mga nasa Master List,”
Galang said at a mass meeting after the Feb. 24 negotiations.
Nenita Mahinay, lead counsel for the
two unions, described the management offer a violation of the labor code
that provides that permanent employees cannot be demoted as contractual or
CATLU president Ricardo Ramos, on the
other hand, said that the management had agreed to reinstate only 17 of
the 35 dismissed union officers, with management deciding
on who should be rehired.
On both issues, Tony Pido, lead
counsel for management, said the management’s decision on the
reinstatement was based on financial constraints. “There is nothing
personal here,” he said, adding that the HLI has been losing money in the
last three cropping seasons and that the CAT has incurred millions of
losses due to the strike.
Romeo Capulong, United Nations Judge
ad litem and senior consultant of the two unions, said there is a
hidden agenda behind the management’s decision on the reinstatement. “If
it is purely an economic issue,” Capulong said, “management will actually
be getting more from the unions’ offer to help solve the companies’
“If they have financial problems, we
are willing to help find solutions,” he said.
Clarifying Capulong’s point, Ramos
said that once the strike is lifted, about 10 to 20 of its officers and
members are headed for retirement anyway. And this would mean more savings
for the company, Capulong said.
Galang, on the other hand, said that
one of ULWU’s retrenched officers would retire as soon as the hacienda
resumes operation. More will follow him, he said, because some of their
members are at retirement age.
Both union leaders also assailed
management for its callousness even if they have already lowered their
demands. From a staggered increase of P100 for permanent, P75 for seasonal
and P60 for casual workers. ULWU has lowered its bargaining pleas to a
standard P60 to the present P20 or a paltry P2.50 more than what
management gave for the first three years of the CBA cycle (P17.50).
ULWU, Galang said, has likewise agreed
to the no-guaranteed man-days for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, Galang said the management
has backtracked from its original agreement to have 70 percent of the
workload to be manualized while keeping the 30 percent mechanized. The
union originally demanded that the production process (including the use
of pesticide) should be done by the farm workers to assure them of
additional man-days. The management has refused, however.
Mechanization combined with the HLI’s
land use conversion program, has significantly reduced the farm workers’
man-days, the ULWU president said.
CATLU, on the other hand, has lowered
its demand for wage increase from the original P150 per day to P32 a day
for two years. It also lowered its demand for a signing bonus from the
original P30,000 to P15,000.
Management however said it would only
follow the mandate of the labor department to give a P15 a day for two
years (or P7.50 a day per year) and a signing bonus of P12,500.
Rafael Baylosis, another senior
consultant of the two unions, countered that management should defer from
dealing the labor dispute in a legalistic manner by following the DoLE
A seasoned labor leader and
negotiator, Baylosis said the management’s decision should be based on the
main reasons why the strike took effect in the first place. “Ayaw ng
management ibigay ang kahilingan ng mga manggagawa at manggagawang bukid,”
The least management could do, he
added, is to reinstate the retrenched farm workers and dismissed mill
union officers for their families’ survival. Giving in to this demand, he
further said, would not even be enough to give justice and redress to
those who have been martyred at the picket line on Nov. 16 in what has
been called the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. The massacre claimed the lives
of seven farm workers and wounded hundreds of others.
Closure and land conversion
Meanwhile, Ramos and Galang warned
that the management’s hard line stance on the reinstatement could be
attributed to its plans to close the CAT and fast tracking the land
conversion of the sugar plantation.
On Feb. 16, management reportedly told
scabs at the CAT it would be forced to close the milling operations due to
financial losses. Management representatives told the scabs that, unlike
the striking workers, they would receive separation pays upon filing their
Still, some of the colorum workers
have not received their pay for two months despite management’s pledge to
give them an eight-hour night differential and 20 percent additional daily
wage for not joining the strike.
ULWU leaders cited unconfirmed reports
that businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. of the same Cojuangco
clan has leased about 2,000 hectares of land in HLI to be used for
purposes other than sugar production.
The Cojuangcos acquired the 6,443- ha
plantation in 1957 from its original Spanish owners, the Tabacalera. The
land was supposed to be awarded to its tillers 10 years later as
stipulated in the Cojuangcos’ loan agreement with the Government Service
Insurance System (GSIS).
For not complying with the agreement,
Marcos agrarian reform officials filed a case against the Cojuangcos in
1981. They won the court case one year before the ouster of Marcos in a
people’s uprising in 1986.
After taking over as president, a
Cojuangco heir, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, implemented the Comprehensive
Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) with land distribution as her
administration’s centerpiece. Cojuangco-Aquino placed Hacienda Luisita
under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), a scheme that distributed
corporate stocks rather than land to the farm beneficiaries.
Fifteen years of implementation the
SDO in Hacienda Luisita is nothing but a failure, Galang said.
The farm workers have, in fact,
petitioned for its revocation since 2003 but the Department of Agrarian
Reform (DAR), the government agency mandated to monitor the SDO
implementation and its effects on the farm beneficiaries, has failed to
act on this. Bulatlat
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