GenSan tuna firms agree to assessment of compliance with labor laws

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 August) — Tuna industry stakeholders here have agreed to undergo an assessment by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) regarding their compliance with various labor laws.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz announced such development following a consultative meeting here on Thursday with 140 member-companies of DOLE Region 12’s Industry Tripartite Council (ITC) and the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII).

She said the assessment is mainly aimed to validate allegations regarding the prevalence of contractualization schemes in the operations of companies in the tuna industry.

Baldoz specifically cited the “5-5-5” or endo (end of contract) work practices and the “cabo” system.

Under the 5-5-5 scheme, an endo worker is hired and fired every five months so that employers will not make them permanent employees to avoid paying their benefits.

The Labor Code of the Philippines defines “cabo” as “a person or group of persons or a labor group which, in the guise of a labor organization, supplies workers to an employer, with or without any monetary or other consideration whether in the capacity of an agent of the employer or as an ostensible independent contractor.”

The consultative meeting, which was joined by DOLE’s internal and labor relations cluster head Undersecretary Rebecca Chato, was organized by DOLE -12 in coordination with the fishing federation in a bid to inform the region’s tuna industry players about their responsibilities to their workers and the new programs of DOLE.

These include programs that specifically seek to “elicit full and voluntary compliance to all labor laws, including occupational safety and health, in fishing, fish canning and processing, aquaculture production, and other related industries.”

“The industry-wide assessment is expected to cover all of SFFAII’s 140 members, including all their subcontractors, consistent with its voluntary code of good practices for decent work and competitiveness. As agreed, an industry-wide orientation will be held next week,” Baldoz said in a statement.

The SFFAII’s membership cuts across the entire value chain of the tuna industry, specifically the hand line fishermen; the small, medium and large commercial ring netters and purse seine operators; fish processing sector; and, exporters composed of big canning operators as well as fresh chilled and frozen value-added fish producers.

Baldoz pledged to provide free technical assistance to the industry’s stakeholders as she underscored a by-industry or by-headquarters assessment in ensuring compliance with all labor laws under the Special Assessment or Visit of Establishments approach, where DOLE composite teams are mobilized for compliance and technical assistance.

She said the agreement was arrived at following the presentation by the agency of the results of its rapid assessment audit on the fishing, fish canning and processing, aquaculture production, and other allied industries.

The audit partly showed the prevalence of “contractualization” practices and other general labor standards and occupational safety and health violations by some players in the fishing industries in Regions 9 and 12.

“I fully believe that with your support and cooperation, the challenges your industry face, particularly the issue of contractualization and its forms, such as the ‘5-5-5’ scheme and the ‘cabo’ system will immediately be corrected,” Baldoz said.

She noted that the corrections are urgent “as market access is inextricably linked with good labor practices.”

Baldoz said SFFAII members will eventually benefit from the 12 percent increase in exports to the European Union (EU) once the country gets onboard the EU Generalized System of Preference or GSP+ Program “hopefully within the year.”

She emphasized that the industry needs to align its labor practices with global standards as the EU GSP+ requires ratification and observance with 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, including the eight International Labor Organization’s core conventions.

SFFAII is a non-government, non-profit organization, established in 1999 as an umbrella organization of seven associations with a total membership of over 100 companies involved in fishing, canning, fish processing, aquaculture production and processing, and other allied industries.

Its member-associations include the Southern Philippines Boat Owners and Tuna Association; South Cotabato Purse Seiners Association; Umbrella Fish Landing Association; Chamber of Aquaculture and Ancillary Industries of Sarangani, Inc.; Tuna Canners Association General Santos); Fresh Frozen Seafood Association–Tuna Processors Philippines, Inc.; and Tuna Cooperative of General Santos City.

The ITC-Fishing and Allied Services serves as a venue for learning sessions and valuable discussions on important issues confronting the industry, such as compliance with international labor standards requirements of the EU-GSP+ Program; Department Order 18-A; and, productivity and the two-tiered wage system.

It is also a platform for the industry to articulate matters, such as environmental concerns, labor-management issues and more importantly, the monitoring of its voluntary code of good practices. (MindaNews)