Workers who produce popular alcoholic beverages owned by the Philippines’ second richest man are currently on strike, demanding regular jobs and better working conditions. Despite attacks by security guards and thugs reportedly hired by the employers, the strikers have continued their work stoppage for more than a week now.
The Tanduay Distillers Inc. plant (which is located in Cabuyao, Laguna, 44 kilometers or about 27 miles south of Manila) hires contractual labor through the agencies Global Skills Providers Multi-Purpose Cooperative and HD Manpower Service Cooperative.
Contractuals are temporary workers who are not given standard labor benefits. Many companies in the Philippines engage in contractualization to lower the cost of their operations.
According to the labor union Tanggulan Ugnayan Daluyong ng Lakas-Anakpawis sa Tanduay Distillers Inc (TUDLA), these two agencies engage in labor-only contracting or the hiring of contractuals to do work that is essential to production—an act prohibited by law.
For the past 5-11 years, 90 percent of the total workforce at Tanduay Distillers Inc. (a total of 397 workers) have been contractual workers.
Responding to the contractual-worker issue, Tanduay’s employees formed TUDLA on April 16 and filed a petition for regularization with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). However, the contractual workers were suddenly made to sign a one-year service contract when the company has not previously required them to sign any contract.
On May 16, Saturday, hundreds of workers were told that they would not be given any schedule for contract signing. In other words, they were already out of work. On May 18, Monday morning, workers decided on the spot to launch a strike. Daily updates about the work stoppage are available on Kilusang Mayo Uno-Southern Tagalog's Facebook page.
According to TUDLA, Tanduay workers create an estimated 15 million pesos ($336,000) worth of beverage products every day. Company owner Lucio Tan, the man listed as the country’s second richest by Forbes Magazine in 2014, has a net worth of 270 billion pesos ($6.1 billion).
Tanduay workers, meanwhile, earn a measly P315 ($7) a day, and government reforms are expected to lower that figure to P255 ($6) a day. The culprit is the Philippine government’s new Two-Tiered Wage System, a so-called productivity scheme that labor groups say is a legal mechanism to drive down the wages of workers outside of Manila.
Tanduay workers also complain that they cannot avail of paid time off (for sick leave or vacation), medical and other benefits, or even bonuses. Not infrequently, the union says, employees are suddenly and without explanation dismissed from their jobs.
The company reportedly hired local toughs and private security groups to disperse the striking workers and their supporters. The violent dispersal was caught on camera by multimedia group ST Exposure.
From day one of the strike, the company’s security personnel and other muscle reportedly working for cash have harassed and even harmed the striking workers and their supporters. Dozens have suffered injuries from beatings. And yet the extremely exploitative conditions have pushed the workers to persist with the strike and their fight for just wages, benefits, and job security.