Drought-affected banana workers demand benefits, end to contractualization

High-grade bananas for export produced by agricultural workers of Dole Philippines in Bukidnon. [PHOTO by GB Villocino for RMP-NMR Inc]

 

 

 

More than 150 banana workers of multinational fruit giant Dole Stanfilco in Dangcagan and Kitaotao towns in Bukidnon province signed a petition demanding security of tenure and just wages to counter effects of “hulaw” or the lingering drought caused by the El Nino dry spell.

The banana workers are affiliated with the Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (United Farmworkers Organization) or OGYON, a member-organization of the national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).

The one-page petition, written in Cebuano, demands the following: (1) Permanent work despite the drought. (2) Subsidies for workers and their families to compensate for lack of work. (3) Withdrawal by workers of their savings or cash bond deposit to the Asiapro Agency so as to help them in their needs especially during this time of calamity. (4) Implement and award leave benefits that the company owes and has long-promised the workers. (5) End contractualization of workers.

Dole employs workers through the Asiapro Agency, which has now reportedly acceded to the demand to return the P10,000 cash bond without terminating the workers. Agency or “cooperative” hiring perpetuates contractualization in vast agricultural plantations in Mindanao. 

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that while the country’s presidentiables have all vowed to end contratualization in the last PiliPinas Debates, concrete legislation co-authored by Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap and Rep. Neri Colmenares has been gathering dust in Congress. House Bill 5140 or An Act Prohibiting Contractualization And Promoting Regular Employment was filed by Anakpawis in as early as October 2014. 

Bukidnon has been affected by drought since November 2015. Last January, Dole Stanfilco imposed a 3-day work week especially among contractual workers in its Dangcagan plantation because most of its banana plants died due to the drought.

“Today, there is almost no work for us agricultural workers,” lamented June Antiga, UMA National Chairperson and President of OGYON in Dangcagan. 

Of more than 400 laborers employed by Dole in the area, only 100 are regular workers. Around 150 have remained in the area while the rest sought odd jobs to support their families during this crisis period. Many of the workers receive a daily wage of P291.00 which means that for a period of 15 days they should get a measly P1,700.00. However, with deductions, workers take home only P1,100.00. 

“This amount covers the family living wage of P 1,088 – a day. How can farmworkers possibly stretch this amount to cover the remaining 14 days?” asked Antiga.

Ramos meanwhile stressed that Dole Stanfilco, which is now under Japanese conglomerate Itochu Corp., still earns billions in profits despite the decrease in production volume in the fresh food business caused by the drought. Dole Stanfilco registered a net profit of P2,243,665,216.63 from April to December 2015. 

“There is no reason to let workers bear the brunt of hulaw, and face this grave calamity without support from its employers or the government. Dole Stanfilco must not run from its responsibility to the workers who have long been exploited by this company,” said Ramos. 

Ramos also called on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to ensure that agricultural workers would still be provided wages and benefits by employers even during this drought period. 

“Agricultural workers make these plantations earn billions in profits due to their hard toil. In times of calamities, it is but the duty of the employers and the government to make sure that workers are compensated and given proper assistance,” said Ramos. 

Farmworkers led by OGYON-UMA were among around five thousand drought-affected peasants who marched to the Bukidnon Provincial Capitol in Malaybalay City last week to demand immediate food relief. The April 1 Kidapawan Massacre has now sparked uproar for food and justice in other different El Nino hit areas in Mindanao such as Pagadian City, Koronadal City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Davao City, where peasants replicated the Kidapawan barricade to protest government’s criminal negligence and to demand that concerned agencies immediately release calamity aid for starving peasants. 

“The situation in Mindanao and the rest of drought-stricken areas in the country dramatically illustrates the utter failure of government’s bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Farmers suffer from hunger and poverty even without El Nino because they are still bound by chains of feudal and semi-feudal oppression in the countryside,” said Ramos.

 

For reference: Gi Estrada, 01966114181

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)

Federation of Agricultural Workers | Philippines

 

UMA is a member organization of the Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP Mindanao Network).