Filipino workers organising for their rights

Issue 

TERESITA CARPIO is an official from the 30,000-strong United Workers of the Philippines (UWP), a trade union federation of mostly women workers, based in Metro-Manila. The federation covers workers from the textile, clothing, footwear and food industries. She came to Australia through the invitation of the Adelaide International Women's Day Committee. Jon Lamb from Green Left Weekly spoke to her about the work of UWP and some of the issues facing workers in the Philippines.

When was UWP formed, and how is it organised?

The United Workers of the Philippines was formed in 1989 and involved 26 locals. As of last year, it comprised 48 locals. The size of these locals range from 300 to over 1000 workers. I was elected to the executive committee of the UWP at its congress last March.

I am also general secretary of Midas Independent Workers Union (MIWU), which was the first union to split from ANGLO, part of the KMU federation. Midas is a textile factory in Metro-Manila. MIWU broke from ANGLO after the "Kowloon Incident" on August 26, 1993. This was a meeting called by ANGLO of its affiliates. However, they refused to invite those unions, such as the MIWU, which had raised questions about the lack of accountability and democracy within the federation.

Workers from MIWU and other unions protested outside the meeting and demanded to be let in because we were part of the federation. They did not allow us in because they knew that they could not answer our questions.

After that, MIWU and others declared independence from ANGLO, and in February 1994 MIWU joined UWP. The workers now have more confidence in the federation representing their interests.

What is the understanding of workers about the split in the KMU and the Communist Party of the Philippines?

We called a meeting of all our members and explained to them why we needed to break with ANGLO, which is part of the KMU, because they were not adequately representing workers or providing support. ANGLO was not providing training on trade unionism and other workers issues.

Union members had lots of discussions about this. The workers understood the split within the trade union movement more easily than the split in the CPP. This was because union work was in the "legal" sphere and in the open, whereas the CPP operated underground.

We read the documents circulated on the split in the CPP and had open discussion about the positions put forward. All of the workers and party members at Midas sided with the "Rejectionist" position [rejecting the bureaucratic control of the Sison leadership].

ANGLO filed a case with the Department of Labour and Employment against the Midas company over the non-payment of union dues to the federation. Management is responsible for deducting dues from the workers' pay, and passes this on to the union treasurer. Half stays with the union, the other half is paid by the treasurer to the federation.

The MIWU then filed a petition with the department, stating our declaration of independence from ANGLO and the reason we would not pay union dues. ANGLO just wanted our money, so we refused to pay.

ANGLO has also taken action against other locals such as one in Manila Bay which has been threatened with a libel case because they have raised issues of corruption within the ANGLO federation.

What is the situation of workers in your union, the MIWU?

I started work as a union organiser with MIWU in 1986, when it was first formed. We faced many problems. Before we had the union, the management totally ignored our demands for better wages and conditions — things such as menstruation, sick or bereavement leave we were not entitled to.

The CBA [employment contract] negotiations are the main issue for the MIWU at the moment. We are pushing for better benefits for our members. There are also basic political issues and demands that we are taking up. The rights of the workers and the rights of the union officers to have access to the workers and to hold union meetings in the factory or compound are the most important of these.

What are some of the other issues of concern to the union movement?

Although union organising is legal, many workers are still being stopped from forming locals; they are being dismissed when they attempt to do so. Only 10% of workers are unionised, so one of the main campaigns for UWP and other federations, such as BMP (Workers for Change), is supporting new locals when they form and organising the workers who have no unions.

Illegal dismissal and suspension of workers is another big problem. Violation of CBA contracts and violation of the minimum wage is also common. There are many CBAs in "deadlock" at the moment. The issue of wages is the main sticking point.

The management of many companies are offering to grant only very small wage increases, like 15 pesos [around A$1] over three years. Unions are demanding at least 20. Management then states that 15 pesos is the final offer, and the negotiations are declared in deadlock by the union, and they file a notice to strike. After filing the notice to strike, there is a period of 37 days during which talks can still take place to reach agreement, before strikes take place.

There are three big locals from UWP on strike at the moment, and many more from other federations. The locals from UWP are striking over breaches of CBA, Company Rules and Regulations [a government labour code] and violations of wage increases.

The dispute at the Grosby factory is one which the UWP is involved with. This has been going on for over three years. The management has been carrying out illegal lockouts of the workers and threatening closure.

The management at Grosby has said it can't afford to keep on workers and provide basic benefits. They claim they can't compete with other footwear manufacturers and are refusing to compensate the workers for the loss of their jobs. The workers are determined to continue the fight for their jobs and the right to work.

There is discussion amongst various trade union federations about building towards May Day, taking up issues like the illegal lockouts that are happening at Grosby and other factories. Other political and economic issues, such as the right to organise and the right to a minimum wage, will also be a focus for May Day.

UWP is also a member of SANLAKAS [a progressive federation of mass-based organisations], which is running an alternative candidate in the elections in May. Union members have been going from factory to factory to talk to workers about this campaign for "fair and free elections". Filipino politics has been dominated too long by the "trapols"[traditional politicians] and the "goons, guns and gold" they push at election time.
[Teresita Carpio will be speaking at public meetings and forums during her stay in Australia, including the Marxist Educational Conferences in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane over Easter.]

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