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Women workers in Shoe Factory Decry Harassment, Low Wages, Union Busting

Contributed to BULATLAT Vol VIII No27, August 10-16, 2008

It was not in the job description but kissing the drunk owner of this 18 year old rubber boots and shoes factory in Muntinlupa was the first thing women workers had to do when they report for work at 6 o’clock in the morning. They lined up not just to have the timecard punched. They lined up to be harassed.

Bleustar Manufacturing Inc., maker of Advan boots and shoes is located at the RMT Compound in Tunasan, Muntinlupa City. It produces as much as 10,000 pairs of rainboot and shoes daily. 85% of it 205-strong workforce are women who mostly worked in the sewing department and were all virtually subject to the sexual advances of its owner, Mr. Jimmy Ong.

“He would arrive at the factory sometimes as early as 4:00 am, extremely drunk. His car would be parked right at the factory’s gate so that when it was time for us to enter and punch in at 6:00 am  we would have to line up to kiss Mr. Ong,” Gloria Bongon,  Vice President of the Bleustar Workers Labor Union said.

Liza Malimata, vice auditor of BWLU estimates that at least 90% of women who worked in Bleustar had been harassed by Mr. Ong. “Every woman who had to report for work early in the morning had no choice but to kiss Mr. Ong. You’re considered lucky if had to report at 10 am when Mr. Ong would most likely be at his office or asleep.”

But even then, there were times when Ong would make his rounds. When he does, women workers would leave their posts and go to the comfort rooms or hide in cabinets or under the tables. “We all wanted to avoid him.”

Malimata narrates that at one time, Ong summoned her and right in front of over a hundred employees at the sewing department. He offered Malimata a promotion and asked if she would kiss him. “I immediately refused the promotion. I refused outright and told Mr. Ong I would not be shamed in front of my co-workers and my husband who was also in the same department. He retorted I should kiss him when my husband is not around. It was embarassing.”

“We didn’t like it. Nobody liked it but we had no choice. We all feared we would lose our jobs,”  said Bongon who said that in July of 2006, she had been asked by Ong outright to touch his private parts.

“He was drunk and put operations to a halt at 10:00 am. We then decided to go home and as I punched out my time card, he shouted and asked that I approach him. At first he said he wanted to know if I was the one responsible for trying to organize a union in the factory. I denied this and asked if I can leave. He ignored my request and said it was good that I wasn’t starting a union.  At that point, he pulled his zipper down and grabbed my hand. He asked if I would touch him as he tried to bring my hand closer to his private part. I was able to pull away and ran towards my co-workers outside. I was shocked and shivering,” recalled Bongon.

Bongon claims that even as these incidents would be reported to their immediate supervisors, they were often told that Ong’s advances were part of his fatherly affection and that they could just wash it off. “Nadadaan naman yan sa paligo!”

ANIT-SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAW

“For over a decade, it was tolerated and even encouraged by the management. We had no union and we didn’t know where to turn to. Not one sexual harassment case was filed against Mr. Ong,” Bongon said.

Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Liza Maza said this was not unusual. “As contractualization and unemployment worsen, women find it more and more difficult to find their voices inside the workplace. They risk losing their jobs. Unfortunately the existing law against sexual harassment has failed to curb the commission of the crime in workplaces.”

RA 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law was enacted in 1995. “It has been ten years. We believe it is time for amendments to be introduced,” said Maza who, along with fellow Gabriela Rep. Luz ilagan filed House Bill 3704 “Amendments to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act”.

The bill seeks to expand the definition of harassment to include those committed outside the workplace. It likewise amends Section 4 of the existing law where “the employer, head of office in a work-related, education or training environment or institution shall hereby be mandated to adopt a comprehensive, detailed, written policy on sexual harassment and so that there shall be a 48-hour deadline within which to act on complaints against sexual harassment in these places.”

In the proposed law, the employer or head of the office is presumed to have knowledge of sexual harassment act or acts if: the management failed to act on the complaint within the period provided for in the preceding section; a complaint was made before the committee or authority designated to receive complaints or investigate cases as provided in the rules and regulations; and the harassment is openly practiced or well-known among employees, students or trainees.
Section 7 on penalties be also amended so that violators shall face imprisonment of one month to six months, or pay a fine of P50,000 to P200,000, or penalized with both.
“Crisis begets violence. Women become all the more vulnerable to gender violence, sexual abuse and harassment in the midst of poverty. Women workers would have no other choice than to endure these sexual advances rather than face joblessness. In the workplace, violence against women becomes all themore prevalent in the absence of a women’s committee or worse, in the absence of a union.”

UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES

Bleustar workers agree, “It is not just the sexual harassment that goes unabated when workers are without union.”

A casual worker at Belustar Manufacturing is given only 248.00 per day, way below the mandated minimum wage in the National Capital Region. Tenured workers who have been with the company in all of its 18 years continue to receive an average of 380/day.

Workers are often made to go forced leaves, for around three to four (3 – 4) days after six (6) days of work without any rational basis. On other days they would be forced to work overtime for as much as four to six more hours which was often computed incorrectly come payday. They likewise complained of incorrect computation of night differentials and holiday pay.

They have raised these issues several times with the management, but were never addressed. “We know that organizing ourselves into a union would give us leverage. We have had several attempts in the past ten years but the management always found a way to stop us,” said Malimata.

Malimata recounted their first two attempts at establishing a union failed because the management did everything to bribe and corrupt their leaders. In 2006, but they were again unsuccessful as the management persecuted all known leaders, harassing and giving them difficult assignments which forced them to resign. Those who were supportive of the plan to establish a union were warned that thet would lose their jobs and that the company would close down.

On October 27, 2007, workers successfully registered the Bleustar Workers Labor Union (BWLU) with the Bureau of Labor Relations of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE-BLR). That same year, they  filed a petition for Certification Election. The refused to appear in any conciliation meetings called for by DOLE, and so the certification election was set  on July 25, 2008.

UNION BUSTING

Workers faced an uphill battle as the certification election approached. Management claimed they would close the factory down. Thirteen (13) days before the scheduled certification election, the workers were surprised when the factory operation was stopped and machines were shut down.

According to BWLU President Marlon Vizconde around 25 machines and other equipment vital to the factory’s operation were loaded in a container truck. “The stoppage of operation and bringing out of the machines are illegal attempts of the management to establish a runaway shop. We picketed the gate and lay on the passageway to keep the trucks and the machinery from leaving.”

The 58 workers involved in the blockade, including union officers were immediately suspended and dismissed Starting July 14, 2008, they were denied entry to the factory.

The workers pushed through with the certification election last July 25. Votes cast by the illegally dismissed workers were not counted and temporarily segregated. Elections are now at a standstill. Cases of illegal dismissal have been filed against the management. Workers continue to hold picket outside the Bleustar factory day after day, determined and unwavering.#

Ka Bel

It was devastating news. The untimely death of Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran hit hard.

For those who have had the opportunity to work closely with Ka Bel would know how endearing he was. His smile, always genuine. He always had a firm handshake, a warm hug, a good word to spare.

Knowing how he was despite of who he was is very very humbling indeed.

This member of the House of Representatives lived a very simple and modest life. Before transferring to the single-room, unpainted Bulacan home where he met his death, he lived in an urban poor community not far from the Batasan Complex and not far from the garbage dump, Payatas.

That Ka Bel died from a fall, trying to repair his leaking roof was just so like Ka Bel. Knowing Ka Bel as the hard-working, hands-on, stubborn lolo that he is, of course he would insist on going up the ladder himself.

Just as he would insist on his principles, on his long discussions on labor issues, the urban poor and the poverty of the Filipino masses. Just as he would insist on wearing a “devil GMA” shirt under his barong tagalog during Congress sessions. Just as he would insist on marching during rallies despite his health.

He served, fought and live to the fullest. He insisted on doing so.

He loved to drink coffee. Almost always, South wing 602 of the Hosue of Representatives where he held office would sport the aroma of percolating brewed coffee. Never mind that he has hypertension, diabetes and a heart ailment that should have kept him from having his cup of coffee. He would insist on it.

On his 75th birthday last January, I held in my hand a brownie slice of sinfully sweet food for the gods. Like a child he took it from my hand as I greeted him happy birthday. He looked at it, beamed like a naughty boy and as he opened it, he said, “Bawal sa akin ‘to!” and munched. I prayed and am thankful his blood sugar didn’t shoot up that very moment.

A doting great grandfather to his great grandchildren, he was a great grandfather to many young activists like me. A rare icon of the Philippine labor movement.

Ka Bel’s demise is an intense loss on the militant labor and people’s movement. He was and is very much loved and he will be sorely missed.

GLORIA DEVILITA

Gloria Devilita

Evil. Lucky Bitch. Duwende. Tsunami. Pandak.

No other woman president in this country has been called by so many derogatory names in public. I do not know if this would hold true for all women presidents globally, but in my book, its certainly Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

It could happen to you…

It was something I never imagined I would do: rise in standing ovation at a speech delivered by (as I write this still) Speaker of the House of Representatives Jose De Venecia.

Tonight, JDV delivered a very impassioned speech that reminded me of the powerful “I accuse…” speech of then Senator Teofisto Guingona. That speech led to the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada.

JDV, in his speech virtually enumerated one deadly sin after another committed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

He started with telling everyone how he, as kingmaker or perhaps queenmaker, built up Arroyo to where she is right now. He had been, as he said “right by the President’s side” through all political turmoil, one impeachment complaint after another and seen her through.

But now we see a beleaguered JDV. Under attack by the Arroyos after his son, Joey De Venecia chose to speak on the ZTE contract.

And so, despite all he has done for the Arroyos, and as a warning to those about to unseat him he said, “it could happen to you.”

And so he went on to enumerate one anomaly after another– the overpriced ZTE contract, the Transco deal that went to yet another Arroyo ally, and the 2AM proclamation of GMA as president in 2004 questionable election results, to which the House of Representatives under his leadership, was party to.

Honestly calls for moral revolution, for unity seems so well, unbelievable, coming from a politician like JDV. He is, admittedly so, “a sinner” and not the ideal person to lead such a revolution.

Will his speech, like that of VP Guingona, lead to snowballing protests that could oust GMA? Will JDV be consistent with what he has said and reveal more of the anomalies under the Arroyo administration that he had been a party to? That remains to be seen.

And so now for GMA, after JDV’s speech, should do well to remember Erap after the Guingona speech. It could happen to you!

P*NYETANG PULIS PLAKARDS YAN!

Jusme, kilabutan nga kayo.

It was all I could say as thousands of peasants marching for land towards the historic Mendiola bridge were met by placard-bearing police women.

crazy pulis placards

The messages ranged from unbelievable to hilarious.

“Kami ay kaagapay ninyo sa kaayusan at katahimikan ng bayan”

“Mapayapang magpahayag ng damdamin para kapayapaan ay mapasaatin”

What d f**k???

Does General Razon’s PNP and his Mamang Pulis spinmasters seriously think they could pull off such insincere messages of peace while peasants are marching to commemorate the day when 13 of them were gunned down by policemen in a rally for genuine land reform 21 years ago?

Stupid.

PNP rally antics have been done before: police women facing a composite of women rallyists, police women giving white roses and now the placards. This is the worst yet.

For one, its always the women. Why the women? This macho institution always resorts to using the women in their ranks for such tasks of facing rallyists in attempts to make protesters appear anti-women in spite of the justness of the calls. Moreover, these tasks are regarded as well, weak and therefore feminine. For the PNP, avoiding confrontation is a woman’s job.

Secondly,do they really think the public is stupid? The PNP along with the AFP are long time record holders of being the number 1 human rights violators in the country. This is a record that cannot be erased with generic messages of peace on tarpaulin placards. This is a record that was attained and sustained year after year after year with the deaths and disappearance of countless of activists, human rights volunteers, journalists and leaders, most of the victims coming from the ranks of peasants.

Winning the propaganda war and hearts and minds of the people goes beyond placards and lip service. Mamang Pulis would do well to rethink its strategy. The same goes for the AFP.

Doing December with the Grinch

I cannot do December. But then again, I cannot not do December.

Year after year after year I tell that to myself, with a feeling of dread at the pit of my stomach knowing I have to face the inevitable: Christmas.

It starts with the countdowns, blahblah days to go before Christmas. Then you hear this dingdongding melody on the radio when Halloween hasn’t even gotten there yet. Then as September becomes October and so on, the next thing you know panic, sets in. Schedules become cramped with reunions and Christmas parties, traffic, year-end deadlines and reports and things you feel you need to get over and done with before the year ends. And I tell myself, I cannot do December and survive with my sanity intact.

Its not my favorite season of the year, obviously. But not to be the grinch for my nieces and nephews, I go along (with much effort) with the ceremonial gift-giving, cooking for the noche buena and media noche pot lucks, going to mass, singing carols and eating more than what I usually eat.

That really isn’t so bad if only the season does not magnify the reality that slaps you in the face everyday.

For an entire year you learn to live with just passing by the candy and yosi vendor; or looking out the jeepney window when a street child wipes your shoes along Quezon Avenue for coins; or not notice the tired face of the cleaning lady at the MRT; ignore the gaping holes on the soles of the slippers of a young boy pushing the trolly along railroad tracks lined with cardboard homes and accept all of these as a part of the f*cking Phillipine society you were born into. It gets frustrating in December. How the hell can you do December? Its different in December.

But it really can be different in December. People seem more charitable, donations pour, telethons for this cause and that institution, concerts for a cause etcetera.

Or is it just the media hype? Because then you see the news.

Vendors who, no different from myself, are trying to beat their deadlines– that of making enough off their wares before the 24th to give their families a decent noche buena– being demolished. All in the name of easing the Christmas traffic.

Then there are the Sumilao farmers who did make the deadline on foot arriving in Manila to ask for land. But then there is the government who wants to beat its own deadline by getting rid of the farmers before Christmas, offering them a ride home along with a stinky land reform deal that supposedly overturns a land-conversion decision to favor Cojuangco’s San Miguel but compels the farmers to still pay for the land.

And then there’s a great December promotion for rapists to go scot free. An honest mistake, Malacanang says, but who trusts Gloria Arroyo enough, believing her to be honest even with mistakes? Phoooey. Ex-Congressman Romeo Jalosjos, convicted rapist of an 11-year old girl is being rewarded by Mrs. Arroyo for his province’ remarkable performance in delivering the votes for her in 2004 and for her senatorial slate in 2007. Honestly no mistake.

And finally you see Mrs. Arroyo kissing the AFP brass ass on their 70th anniversary thanking them for their loyalty, and swearing to high heavens insurgency will be wiped out by 2010. What has been wiped out are communities after communities of peasants. Some have fled and become internal refugees, and some have added to the ranks of the insurgents this regime boasts to get rid of but cultivates instead.

I swear cannot do December. To prove it, I’ve had fever for three straight days and migraine to boot but I am writing this blog with hopes that it will release whatever that needs to be released to survive this season.

It shouldn’t be so bad but doing December has become such an effort especially when the Gloria Grinch makes the lights blink and not glitter. They just blink. And like many of us, pundi na.