SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/10 June) – While motorists shied away from the streets during the pre-Pacquiao fight Sunday, about a hundred labor leaders from the National Council of the Kilusang Mayo Uno picketed two branches of the Novo Jeans and Shirts retail shop along Borromeo and San Nicolas streets from 8 to 10 a.m.
The protesters called on the NVJS management to uphold the rights of its workers to a just wage and safe working conditions.
The NVJS protest was held simultaneously in other cities in Mindanao and the rest of the country in time for the 32nd day of the May 9 fire that gutted a Novo store in Butuan City, killing 17 workers who were trapped in the building. .
KMU Caraga regional chair Edwin B. Batac challenged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to act on its decades-long demand to conduct a periodic visitation of establishments so they will know the real conditions of workers in the region.
In Surigao City alone, Batac said, majority of the establishments do not give workers the required daily minimum wage of P241 plus P17 cost of living allowance or a total of P258 per day.
Batac claimed NVJS is paying its workers P150 per day, at least a hundred pesos less than the minimum wage. He alleged workers are made to work 12 hours a day without overtime pay and are allegedly made to sign a different form to make it appear they are receiving the minimum wage.
NVJS management could not be reached for comment as the branches were closed on Sunday.
Batac stressed the issue is not just low wages but also contractualization of labor.
In Caraga region. seven in every 10 workers are contractual employees. Batac said workers suffer extreme work conditions but hardly complain for fear of losing their jobs, even if this means being padlocked inside the establishment, like what happened in the Novo store fire in Butuan City.
Elmer Labog, KMU president, denounced the Novo incident, calling it one of the worst incidents involving workers under a liberalized government.
Labog said the Novo inferno of May 9 is a statement of how workers are treated not as humans but as “equipment” that can easily be replaced.
He said this is why workers need to organize and form unions to protect their interests.
Winnie Badayos, KMU Central Visayas chair, expressed their sympathies to the victims’ families.
Most of those who died were women aged 20 to 25.
Badayos said these establishments also promote the selection of “women with pleasing personality” as part of their job requirement. This, he said, is discriminating.
Genita Galagar, Gabriela Women party list regional coordinator, urged local government units to intervene in asking the DOLE to conduct visits to workplaces.
“Bisan pa man wala pa mahitabo ang sa Novo, ubus gyud ang sweldo sa mga trabahante, ilabina sa mga kababayen-an,”she said. (Even before the May 9 fire in Butuan, the employees’ salaries are really low, especially women’s wages).
KMU-Caraga urged local governments in the city and the rest of the region to also conduct an investigation on the compliance by establishments of what is mandated by law. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)