Dole workers welcome Itochu’s takeover

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 20 Sept) – Thousands of workers of Dole Philippines, Inc. (Dolefil) have been assured of their jobs following the company’s sale to Japanese trading giant Itochu Corp., a labor leader said on Thursday.

Francis Gales, president of the Labor Employees Association of Dolefil-Polomolok Hourlies (LEAD-PH), said the employees were formally informed of the deal in a special meeting called by the management Wednesday afternoon.

Simon Denye, Dolefil managing director, addressed two batches of company employees at the firm’s gymnasium.

“It’s business as usual for the company despite the [looming] change in ownership. For now, we have been assured that there’s no retrenchment or offers of termination of service,” Gales told MindaNews.

LEAD-PH represents around 3,600 employees.

Gales said their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the management “will remain in place” and that Denye assured the workers “it will be respected until its expiration.”

The five-year CBA of the management and LEAD-PH is now on its second year.

A company source said that Denye has also issued an internal memorandum assuring workers and contractors of continuity of operation.

“This is a welcome development because Itochu is a giant trading company,” the source said, noting, “It’s business as usual for us.”

Dolefil, based in nearby Polomolok, South Cotabato, is the largest multinational company operating in Region 12 since 1963. It has pineapple plantations in at least 13,000 hectares (ha) in the province through lease agreements. This is the largest pineapple plantation of parent Dole Food Co., Inc. (Dole) in Asia.

Dolefil also produces banana and papaya in another 13,000 ha of leased lands in South Cotabato and other parts of Mindanao through its Stanfilco division.

In 2006, Dolefil acquired the bankrupt T’boli Agro Industrial Development, Inc., which has a pineapple cannery in Surallah, South Cotabato and a contracted pineapple plantation area estimated to be at least 2,000 ha in Surallah and nearby T’boli town.

Gales said that Dolefil would create a team, including those from the finance and marketing divisions, to work out the transition scheme with Itochu, Japan’s third largest trading company.

In a September 17 statement, Dole, chaired by David Murdock, announced that it has signed a definitive agreement with Itochu for the sale of Dole’s worldwide packaged foods and Asia fresh produce businesses for $1.685 billion in cash. This proposed transaction results from Dole’s previously announced strategic business review process, and is subject to Dole stockholder approval and customary regulatory approvals in multiple countries.

Dole will use cash proceeds from the transaction for debt reduction, to pay deal-related expenses, and for restructuring and other corporate purposes.

The transaction is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2012, subject to the timing of the proxy statement process and the anticipated regulatory approvals. The company intends to disclose further information pertaining to this transaction and its strategic business review process, as required or appropriate, in the future, the Dole statement said.

Dole is the world’s biggest supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)