Bukidnon labor contractor admits facing charges

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 Aug) — Officials from labor contractor Asiapro Cooperative have admitted to members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that the firm is facing cases of non-remittance of Social Security System premiums as well as wage and labor benefits-related cases.

“They further admitted having used their ‘cooperative’ nature and the membership of its workers to the ‘cooperative’ as defense in those cases,” according to provincial board member Jay Albarece, who chairs the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s committee on labor and manpower development.

Five executives from Asiapro and other labor contractors serving agricultural plantation firms in Bukidnon faced the provincial board in its follow up hearing on labor contractualization in the province at a hotel in Cagayan de Oro last Wednesday.

Albarece said Asiapro was the first firm questioned by Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., who fielded at least 80 percent of the questions.

The Asiapro Northern Mindanao in-charge and four other officers based in Bukidnon attended the hearing.

“Asiapro in response also denied all reports of employing child laborers and underpaying their workers,” Albarece noted.

The firm reportedly labels its contractual workers as “associate members” and insisted that they are thus not covered by the Labor Code but of the Cooperative Code, making them not liable for any violations of labor laws.

Albarece said he disagreed with the claim, citing an SSS case decided by the Supreme Court which treated their associate members as employees.

The labor lawyer-turned-provincial board member said that they found out in the hearing that Asiapro has at least 30,000 “associate members” and only 30 regular members who have voting rights.

“The 30,000 are actually Asiapro workers assigned in different companies but were required to pay capital shares,” he stressed.

Albarece said the 30,000 laborers have no participation in the cooperative decision and policy-making processes.

“Worse, they cannot file labor cases against Asiapro by virtue of their being associate members,” he added.

Albarece said Asiapro got the most beating because they are the province’s biggest contractual labor supplier with 5,000 of its 30,000 workers employed in a number of banana and pineapple plantations.

He added that the SP heavily criticized the firm’s “cooperative” nature, which he said insulated it from labor cases in the past.

Asiapro, according to its website, is the “Philippines’ first, largest and leading worker cooperative that offers flexible, cost-effective, and socially responsible solutions to your service contracting and outsourcing needs.”

“With a member base of about 34,000 worker-entrepreneurs, we are a people enterprise composed of professional coopreneurs who simply get things done better,” the website added.

Albarece said he is yet to draft a report of the hearings but cited that in terms of contract pricing, there are generally two types of contracts — the volume-based and the head-based.

In head-based, the principal company pays the contractors the daily wage of the supplied workers plus the contractor’s profit margin of more or less 10 percent.

“It is not as straightforward in volume-based. The contractor is paid per work or accomplishment and it is up to the contractor whether it will pay its workers by piece rate (pakyawan) or on a daily basis,” Albarece said.

He said underpayment, child labor and other labor exploitation issues usually thrive in volume-based arrangements.

Contractors also blamed the delayed payment of wages to the billing procedures of the multinational companies.

Zubiri, Albarece quoted, was pleased to hear from some contractors at Del Monte Philippines, Inc. that the SP hearings have already resulted to a significant reduction in the billing processing time.

Lawyer Marco Parpan, DMPI plantation labor relations and legal services manager, told MindaNews last month that even before the hearing on July 21, they already have regular dialogues with contractors and laborers to fill the gaps.

But he said they started intensifying the monitoring in the execution of the memorandum of agreements, especially with remittances of the contractors of the laborers’ benefits after the hearing.

Albarece said what they conducted in Cagayan de Oro, the second hearing, was in a regular session and an oversight committee hearing.

It was the last scheduled hearing on the subject matter, he added. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)