Gov't order stops workers' strike in Agusan oil palm plantation

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 Oct) — Over a thousand workers in the country’s largest oil palm plantation have called off their strike following an “assumption of jurisdiction” order from the government.

Elmer Jamero, president of the Filipinas Palm Oil Plantations Workers Union, an affiliate of the National Federation of Labor Unions of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, said the workers were forced to go back to work without any of their demands granted after the company sought the government’s help in stopping the strike.

The workers went on strike early this month following the deadlock of their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations with the company over the issue of wage increase and other workers’ benefits.

Of the P130 to P150 wage increase that the union demanded in the last two or three years, the company only agreed to grant P4.

The Filipinas Palm Oil Plantations, Inc., which covers 8,000 hectares in San Francisco and Rosario towns in Agusan del Sur, makes up more than 30 percent of the total area planted to oil palm in the country. The company employed over 1,000 workers, most of them contractuals, according to Tony Pascual, secretary-general of the National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU-KMU). A single hectare of  oil palm can produce more than four tons of crude palm oil in a year, which is 5 to 10 times greater than the yield of other oil types. Palm oil is used as an ingredient in cooking oils, confectioneries, ice creams, soaps, cosmetics, and many other food products and chemicals.

“We are on strike because we could no longer bear the working conditions inside the company,” the workers said in an earlier statement. They said they decided to break the silence because the whole situation called for a united and concerted effort among workers.

Among the violations that the workers cited were: the failure of the company to regularize the workers as stipulated in the CBA, failure to repair the houses of workers within the company’s housing site, alleged dismissal of a worker, failure to grant the cost of living allowance, failure to grant 13th month pay and other service incentives to casual employees and failure to provide Social Security System and Pag-ibig benefits to the workers, among others.

Jamero said the company also repeatedly denied from the workers 25 types of economic benefits, such as night differentials and hospitalization insurances, which they lobbied for in the CBA before negotiations finally broke down.

The CBA deadlock forced the union to file for a notice of strike in August but the management appealed for Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to issue Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) to prevent the workers’ strike.

Jamero said the workers defied the AJ when they pushed through with the strike on October 5.

But in a phone interview with MindaNews, Jamero said the company operation is back to normal. He said that under the law, the union can still file the petition before the DOLE within 10 days from the issuance of the AJ, stating their demands.

Pascual said the “Assumption of Jurisdiction” order was a weapon to force workers to work under extremely exploitative and oppressive conditions. “The root causes of the strikes and disputes are still left unresolved,” Pascual said.

“The oil palm workers’ strike is a testament to the continuing unrest in the labor front under the new administration, in its first 100 days,” he said. “If the President will continue to stick to the same policy of wage freeze and suppression of workers’ rights, more protests will surely explode all over the country in the days to come,” Pascual said. (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews)