Surigao port workers’ strike paralyzes cargo shipment

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 8 Nov) – Workers at the Surigao pier are now on a two-day strike, paralyzing an undetermined volume of cargoes being shipped to and from the city.

The 113-member Surigao Dockworkers Labor Union (SDLU) is demanding from the management of the Prudential Customs Brokerage Services, Inc. (PCBSI) “to honor its (contract) obligations three years ago.”

MAKESHIFT TENT AND KITCHEN. Striking workers of the Prudential Customs Brokerage Services, Inc. created a makeshift tent and a kitchen while on strike on Nov. 8 for the management’s alleged failure to honor a contract since 2009. Management has also allegedly cut on workers’ benefits including vacation and sick leave and medicine allowance.                                                               MindaNews photo by Vanessa L. Almeda

Jovito Lacore, vice president of the SDLU, said that since the change of management in 2009, PCBSI has yet to honor its contract to continue a management-labor agreement between the previous arrastre operator, Bilang-Bilang Arrastre Stevedoring Services Inc. (BBASI), and the labor union.

PCBSI general manager Edilberto Tiu said it is still “status quo” whether management will grant a proposal submitted by the workers’ union. A conciliatory meeting is ongoing at the Department of Labor and Employment provincial office here attended by National Conciliation and Mediation Board executive director Reynaldo Ubaldo.

Ubaldo was unavailable for comment.

Tiu said they are still awaiting results of the management response since “it will still be our Manila office who will decide on this.” Whatever the decision, the labor union will still have to discuss it with its members, he added.

The present negotiation, he said, could still be “drawn-out”.

He said “opportunity losses” are being felt now since there has been a “total work stoppage” since Wednesday.

Yet, Tiu added, “it is good the union agreed to disembark the cargoes that were not released yesterday.”

Unfulfilled promise

Lacore said even before PCBSI took over management of the Surigao arrastre in 2009, it promised to honor all benefits that the union workers earned in the previous labor agreement with the BBASI management.

This is provided in the contract agreement allegedly signed by the union and the new management before the October 19, 2009 takeover under paragraph 20 which states that “it shall respect the collective bargaining agreement with SDLU or make a new agreement,” he said.

Apparently, PCBSI chose the second option of the agreement because it failed to fulfill its promise, Lacore said.

Under the CBA, according to SDLU president Artiquio Alciso Jr., workers are entitled to a 15-day vacation and sick leave, a P1,700 medicine allowance and several other benefits.

But he said management was able to comply with the agreement for the next three months since its takeover but until now nothing has changed.

“Instead management has reduced our benefits and took away what we have gained in the past negotiation,” Roger Gingoyon, a member of the union board who has been with the arrastre for 35 years said.

Presently, workers’ vacation and sick leave was reduced to almost half – from 15 to 8 days for sick leave and five days for vacation leave, he added.

Medical assistance was also reduced to P1,300 or a deduction of P400, he said.

Kilusang Mayo Uno Caraga chapter president Edwin Batac said eight arrastre workers were already dismissed since the new management took over.

SDLU is a member of the KMU and according to Batac, management has apparently chosen to ignore the CBA and attempted to choose the alternative. “It even went to the extent of creating its own union and launched an election but did not win,” he said.

Lacore also said the grievance committee even did not function “fairly” since they were not represented in the committee.

He added a formal negotiation was undertaken nine months ago but management has been “delaying” the resumption of negotiations.

“We already formulated a proposal but until now we are just told that they’ll look at it. We can’t avoid but say that this is being delayed,” Lacore said when interviewed during the break of the negotiations at the DOLE provincial office today.

Work stoppage

Tiu said “opportunity losses” are being felt in terms of cargoes being held on standby at the Surigao port as well as those that are still onboard cargo vessels.

Asked if there have been complaints from clients, the mining company THPAL (Taganito High Pressure Acid Leach Plant) already sent a representative to inquire on their cargo and why there has been a delay.

“These are actually opportunity losses since these (cargoes) could not be used if needed today,” he added.

At the old entrance of the Surigao City port, workers are setting up tents to show their intent that they are not backing out of the negotiations.

“We are not asking for too much as what some radio reports are saying. We are asking for our benefits that they took away from us. Instead of adding they have instead deducted,” Lacore said. (Vanessa L. Almeda / MindaNews)