Del Monte, other agri firms violated labor laws with use of labor contractors — Zubiri

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 July) — Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. told agricultural companies here Monday they have been found to have violated labor laws probably “out of their watch.” This he said during the first day of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s inquiry on the contractualization of labor among agricultural companies in the province.

He vented his ire on Del Monte Philippines Inc., Lapanday Diversified Foods Inc., Sumifru Philippines Corporation and Davao Agricultural Ventures Corporation, which are among the nine companies represented in the hearing.

Dole Skyland Philippines was not allowed to manifest due to its representative’s failure to present its contract with its labor contractors.

Zubiri cited results of investigations he conducted when he was still governor.

He told MindaNews that, backed with the capitol’s legal counsels, they interviewed at least 28 contracted laborers or at least three from each of the big agriculture companies prior to the end of his term as governor.

He said most of the companies have committed similar violations, but he zeroed in on details of the violations of Del Monte.

Del Monte has eight labor contractors, according to lawyer Marco Parpan, who represented the company’s management during the SP inquiry. The provincial board members convened as an oversight committee and conducted the session as a hearing.

Parpan said the company employs a total of 2,000 workers via contractors.

He said they have made sure the amount they placed in the contract for salaries are followed.

But Zubiri said that none of Del Monte’s contractors paid minimum wage and that the company allegedly did not do something about it.

He said the contracts lasted for four to five months with some of the weed laborers getting paid as low as P60 and harvesters receiving P80 a day.

Zubiri cited that the laborers they interviewed claimed that the contractors gave them no benefits like PhilHealth, Social Security System, Pagibig, and 13th month pay.

He alleged that the contractors did not pay wages on time, some as much as one-and-a-half month to two months delayed.

He cited that wages have not been given in full, too, as laborers were made to advance wages from P500 to P1,000 only.

Zubiri alleged that the contractors have violated labor hauling, noting that a vehicle with no top cover has carried workers from an assembly point to the farms.

He said the work setup makes it difficult for the workers to earn the daily minimum wage. A plot of farm fit for 10 workers, he said, is given to at least 20 to 30 workers on a piece rate scheme.

“So they end up finishing the job by mid-day and have the rest of the day to wait to be ferried out,” Zubiri said.

Parpan assured the board members that his company paid the right rates but promised to look into the province’s findings.

Zubiri said he knew that the agricultural firms are operating in good faith but they might not be aware of what their contractors are doing.

Board member Nemesio Beltran Jr. reminded Parpan that Del Monte is jointly liable if their contractor is found to have exploited their workers.

Parpan declined to give further comments to MindaNews about the findings Zubiri cited.

Zubiri said he used results of investigations on three of Del Monte’s eight labor contractors. He said he conducted the investigation personally following complaints he received during his term as governor. But he did not name the labor contractors as “they are not here to defend themselves.”

He vowed to confront the contractors next week when the SP will meet them for the followup inquiry. Zubiri demanded from the agricultural firms to provide the SP with copies of their contracts with the contractors.

He said he has no axe to grind, noting they were not against Del Monte but of the exploitative practices of their labor contractors.

Zubiri said they want to require accreditation of labor contractors before they can operate in Bukidnon, as provided for in a provincial ordinance passed in 2008.

He said they want to ward off possible violations to prevent feared labor unrest in the province. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)