Bukidnon’s labor situation ‘bleak’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 July) – The labor situation in Bukidnon is bleak, provincial board member Jay Albarece, a labor lawyer, said while the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is looking into labor contractualization in the province.

“Due to rampant contractualization and similar practices, very few workers are paid the legislated minimum wage, enjoy standard benefits, protected by labor unions or associations and have security of tenure,” Albarece told MindaNews via email.

He clarified that he may not have the accurate figures at the moment but the new chair of the SP committee on labor and manpower development said Bukidnon’s “workers are not getting their fair share in the fruits of production”.

Albarece is the legal counsel of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines in Northern Mindanao.

He said he has and will continue to advocate unionism in workplaces, has handled union certification and election cases, unfair labor practice cases, notice of strike cases, illegal dismissal cases, violation of labor standards and other labor cases and disputes.

At the SP inquiry, Albarece bombarded agricultural firms with queries about their labor  contracting practices and was referred to by his colleagues as their “labor expert.”

But he clarified that pursuing the perpetrators of labor contracting violators won’t be easy.

“In theory and per experience, winning cases for regular workers is relatively easier than getting justice for their contractual, agency and other non-regular counterparts,” he said.

Albarece said he has handled labor cases against all, except two or three, of the companies present during the SP hearing on July 21. But he said he might step beyond ethical bounds if he will discuss the decisions in those cases.

In the hearing, Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. assailed most of the agricultural plantation firms for alleged violations committed by their labor contractors.

Zubiri hit almost all firms except Unifrutti and Mt. Kitanglad Agri-ventures Inc.

He detailed all alleged violations of the labor contractors of Del Monte Philippines Inc., non-payment of minimum wage among them. Del Monte lawyer Marco Parpan denied the allegations, but did not rebut the allegations Zubiri cited.

Zubiri lauded Unifrutti for its “ideal” labor practices, including the move not to use labor contractors in hiring laborers.

Zubiri was receptive of the presentation of Unifrutti executive Engr. Rodolfo Pancrudo who was the first nominee of Atong Paglaum, the party-list Zubiri backed in the May 2010 elections.

But Albarece said ALU-TUCP’s experience with Unifrutti wasn’t as smooth.

“It might interest you that I was personally and actively involved in ALU –TUCP’s two failed attempts to unionize Unifrutti’s MKAVI plantation in Lantapan. We did not even get close to having a union election on our first try many years ago and we badly lost the one conducted last October 2009,” he said.

“We are luckier with Lapanday. Their supervisors were organized about two years ago and are now enjoying the fruits of their first collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The rank-and-file workers thrashed their independent union for an ALU-affiliated union in an election late last year. Their CBA negotiation is expected to be concluded in a month or two,” he added.

Albarece said they also filed more than a dozen labor cases against the two companies, Unifrutti and Lapanday.

Albarece, told MindaNews in an e-mail dated July 22, that the SP hearing on the labor issue is “a huge first step towards abating labor exploitation in the province by the labor contractors and the consenting multinational companies.”

“At least we now have a bird’s eye view of their labor practices. The next hearings should further reveal the gaps in labor laws enforcement,” he added.

On July 28, it is the labor contracting firms’ time to face the provincial board in the second round of inquiries on labor contracting.

To be vigilant, the public must look at basically the entire Labor Code and check on underpayment of wages, non-payment of overtime pay, rest and holiday pay, 13th month pay, non-remittance of SSS, Philhealth and Pag-ibig premiums, child labor, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, no security of tenure, unfair labor practices, and union busting.

Albarece vowed that his committee will check on what the Department of Labor and Employment has done to solve Bukidnon’s labor woes. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)