The sour situation of agricultural workers in the pineapple industry

In the research conducted by the Ecumenical Institute on Labor Education and Research (EILER) commissioned by FairFood International, Philippines is the second largest exporter of pineapple products in the world, with a total volume of 272,440 MT in 2012 which represents close to 15% of the market share. It exports the majority of fresh pineapples in Japan and South Korea, while canned pineapples are primarily sold in US and European markets. Eighty-seven per cent of these pineapples are produced in Mindanao.

However, it is ironic to note that the pineapple producing regions of Mindanao - SOCCSKSARGEN and Northern Mindanao - are the third and fifth poorest regions in the Philippines respectively in the year 2014. Moreover, insufficient income plagues pineapple workers. EILER furthered that 83% of the pineapple workers they surveyed in 2014 stated that their monthly income is not enough to cover their family needs, while 90% of the workers claimed to have debts.

Labor contractualization in the pineapple industry

There are at least 40,000 Filipino workers directly involved in the pineapple industry (Philippine Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, 2012). At least 75% of these pineapple workers, according to EILER, work under labor cooperatives or agencies on temporary contracts. Though Philippine law dictates that workers who have worked for the company for more than a year—whether this period was continuous or broken—should be treated as regular workers, this do not happen in practice. Seventy-nine percent of workers in labor cooperatives have been working for the companies for more than a year.

Practically, the use of labor cooperatives allows companies to circumvent labour laws and prevent the workers from becoming permanently employed and therefore entitled to benefits. On the average, contractual workers earn half the wage of regular workers. Contractual pineapple workers surveyed by EILER said they are required to work overtime. Of these contractual workers, 38% stated they do not receive overtime payments.

Contractual workers are not represented by any labour union. Having a union is also not an assurance of better conditions for the workers. Although regular workers have the legal right to freedom of association and to collective bargaining, union members, according to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, continue to face intimidation and harassment. In most cases, unions are formed by company management and are not governed by the laborers themselves. 

‘Pakyawan’

Then there are also around 30,000 seasonal workers (UMA, 2015) all over Mindanao contracted by pineapple companies and labor cooperatives during peak seasons.

Seasonal workers face the burden of the ‘pakyawan’ (wholesale) scheme. In this scheme, seasonal workers do not have a daily fixed wage. Instead, their wage depends on their ability to reach a daily quota, e.g., acres of land weeded or tons of fresh fruit harvested. Pakyaw workers face more insecure income as their wage rates can vary, depending on the agreed rate per area of output. According to EILER, 54% of the pakyaw workers earn less than the official minimum wages. On top of these lack of decent wages, these workers are often not given safety trainings or given protective gear in handling pesticides or heavy equipment.

Women in the pineapple production

The economic security of the female workers is worse. Most of those fired or offered voluntary resignation since Dolefil pineapple company began to use labor flexibilization in the 1980’s were regular female workers.

The majority of the women in the plantations and canning factories today are contract laborers hired through labor cooperatives, without benefits if they are pregnant or having just given birth. 

Absence of genuine unionism

The comparatively weak negotiating position of the workers is a notable underlying cause of non-compliance with labor rights. Companies also largely do not allow development of an independent and democratic union, and when union exists, they are mostly company-organized.

Additionally, contractual schemes and seasonal employment prevent most of the workers from forming a union that would be able to negotiate with management for benefits.

Government neglect

The local governments have also been largely unhelpful. The government, short on protecting the freedom of association by following up and acting on labor complaints, has also failed to pass laws that grant equal labor rights and benefits to all workers, including those contractual or sub-contracted workers and protection of workers’ rights when workers initiate a complaint. No laws are in place to ensure that production quotas protect human rights, especially the health and safety of workers. Employers are often not subjected to detrimental fines or legal action if they fail to comply with labor laws. 

Although the Philippine government voted ‘yes’ to the UN resolution of forming an inter-governmental working group to come up with an international legally-binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights in June 2014, much has yet to be done to substantiate its commitment to uphold human rights in the context of business operations. The Philippines is also a signatory to a number of United Nations human rights treaties such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 8 ILO core conventions. However, it has not demonstrated strict adherence to these treaties, in particular, with regards to violation of labor rights and related extra-judicial killings, and the responsibility to protect.

 

[Photo by Pauline Villanueva of the Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies]