By CARLO MANALANSAN, Bulatlat.com
For workers in Southern Tagalog, repression is as normal as resistance.
Intimidation, death threats, terrorist labeling, and extra-judicial killings loom over workers and trade unionists in the Southern Tagalog region. Labor center Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK) said that there were 36 cases of harassment against workers from March 2020 to March 2023.
In 2021, the union president and other officers of the Wyeth workers union were visited by suspected state agents.
Meanwhile, elements of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) visited the houses of some officers of the Nexperia Philippines Workers Union.
House-to-house visits happened in time of workers’ union local elections and collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiation.
Workers unions filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in March 2021 and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in December 2021 to raise these issues but no concrete resolutions have been made so far.
While the climate of fear was evident in the region, trade unions found ways to regain their momentum in organizing and mobilizing their ranks against attacks on their political and economic rights.
Mary Ann Castillo or Ann, the current union president of Nexperia Philippines Workers Union, was not spared from the heightened surveillance and intimidation not just in her workplace but also in her residence.
At the height of the crackdown against activists and unionists, Ann sought refuge elsewhere until the situation appeared to have de-escalated.
Before working in Nexperia (formerly known as Philips Semiconductors), Ann was a sales crew, cashier, and review center assistant in her relative’s business. These jobs did not expose her to unionism.
She entered Philips Semiconductors as a contractual worker, serving as a production operator in 1993. She earned a permanent probationary status in June 1994 and became permanently employed in September 1994.
She was stationed at visual inspection and die bonding units. She later became a process technician. At Nexperia, trade union members immediately recruit workers right after their regularization and this happened to Ann.
At first, she just had the “go with the flow” mindset since 99 percent of the workers are union members. Later on, she immersed herself completely in union organizing.
Noticing that she has a good singing voice, her colleagues asked her to join the cultural committee. She enjoyed performing in cultural events even if claimed to be shy.
After serving on the cultural committee, Ann was transferred to the propaganda committee. She worked with veteran union leaders and organizers and was exposed to big labor fights that contributed to her political growth.
She was directly involved in the CBA negotiation in 2013, one of the biggest labor campaigns at Nexperia. It was an intense negotiation for a wage increase as the parties did not reach an agreement.
Soon after the deadlock in May 2014, twenty-four union members consisting of 15 union board members and nine steward council members were terminated, including Ann.
Her colleagues launched campaigns against their illegal termination. Ann and 11 others were reinstated in September 2014. She immediately held the executive vice president position in the union where she was tasked to handle grievances.
Ann identified herself as an introvert so dealing with many people and complaints proved to be challenging. However, her continuous integration with co-workers made it bearable.
The union was able to prevent any attempt by the management to illegally terminate and dismiss workers during this period.
Ann’s involvement in unionism grew. During the local union election in 2015, Ann was elected president. During her term, the union faced one of the biggest problems when some of the departments like the broadband communication and base station (BCBS) were shut down, affecting more than 600 workers.
According to Ann, handling these issues while dealing with personal challenges was tough, on top of the political attacks she was going through. But the support from the federation and the union members, as well as the lessons from the past, has been crucial in keeping Nexperia trade unionism moving.
During the CBA negotiations from 2017 to 2019, their union pushed for the regularization of 250 agency contractual workers who have limited or no benefits at all from Nexperia.
However, the inclusion of agency contractual workers in the regularization agenda received mixed reactions. Some union members said that this move could minimize the number of direct-hired workers who could be up for regularization.
Contractual workers were initially perceived as competitors in terms of overtime pay and other benefits that a direct-hired worker is entitled to. Some thought that direct-hired workers would be replaced in production if contractual workers were regularized. However, through persistent education work inside the union, workers understood the need to regularize all workers at Nexperia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the union fought to include one-month paid quarantine leave and door-to-door transportation services for workers who needed to be at the factory.
The management only agreed to give one-week paid quarantine leave but the workers organized a social media protest to assert their right for one-month paid quarantine leave. They also demanded the management to provide protective gear such as face shields, masks, vitamins, and alcohol to all workers at the Nexperia facilities.
Putting up an isolation facility and mass testing were also included in their demand to ensure the workers’ safety on-site. The union also called for additional support like personal protective equipment for health workers. They received 700 smock gowns that were distributed in Laguna, Batangas, Philippine General Hospital (PGH), Cavite, and Manila.
CBA negotiation resumed in July 2020 but most discussions happened online. Before the end of 2020, the union was able to enter an agreement that provided workers a bonus of P36,000, free RT-PCR testing, and paid pandemic leave especially for workers who were COVID-19 positive.
Then and now, workers reap the fruits of the union’s work and the unionists’ sacrifices. For Ann and the Nexperia workers union, these victories help the resistance grow, repression notwithstanding.