Police slammed for 'violent dispersal' of workers in NutriAsia

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  • Several NutriAsia workers started their picket line on June 2 to protest contractualization and the unjust dismissal of workers

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 15) — Militant groups and a number of netizens condemned what they claimed as police "violent dispersal" of workers in NutriAsia who went on strike, but the Bulacan provincial police denied the allegations on Friday.

READ: NutriAsia denies manpower firm's alleged illegal contracting, subcontracting

Violence erupted at the factory in Marilao, Bulacan on Thursday when police attempted to break up the picket line. The workers were on strike for 12 days to protest alleged contractualization, low wages, and unhealthy working conditions. They also called for the reinstatement of dismissed union leaders.

Some workers were left bloodied when crowd control police dispersed the protesters even as some strikers were arrested.

 

Militant group Anakbayan slammed the "brutal police dispersal" and hit President Rodrigo Duterte's failure to carry out his promise to end labor-only contractualization.

"(The) violent dispersal of the NutriAsia workers' strike shows Duterte's commitment to stifle all forms of dissent and resistance. It shows his commitment to sacrificing the lives of the working Filipino to ensure the profits and welfare of his rich, big-business buddies," it said in a statement on Thursday.

The House Makabayan bloc said someone has to be held accountable for the "blatant use of force" against the workers.

"Didn't President Duterte himself say that he would eradicate ENDO and contractualization? The NutriAsia workers are just demanding their right to security of tenure, now why disperse them with such violence and many workers were injured," it said in a statement.

The Makabayan bloc said it will ask Congress to look into the incident.

Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent Chito Bersaluna, acting Bulacan police chief, explained to CNN Philippines what happened.

He said there were two stay orders from the Bulacan Regional Trial Court on June 6 and 8 to dismantle the picket. A sheriff arrived in the area on Thursday to serve the court order.

Bersaluna said after hours of convincing and after the protesters barricaded the area by lying on the ground, the workers voluntarily left their picket at 1:30 p.m. and exited the factory premises. He said he was "relieved" because he thought the protest was about to end peacefully. But when the workers exited through the main gate, they allegedly came across members of urban poor group Kadamay who were in the area to show support for the workers.

The Bulacan police chief said Kadamay members tried to remove the barricade to go inside the NutriAsia premises.

That's when chaos began, Bersaluna said. He said the protesters threw rocks at the police.

Bersaluna denied allegations of violent dispersal, adding five police officers suffered injuries and wounds.

"Confrontation lang ang nangyari," he told CNN Philippines on Friday.

He added, "Kung hindi dahil sa instigation ng Kadamay, walang gulong nangyari at very peaceful ang paglisan sa picket line."

Bersaluna said the police exercised maximum tolerance in dealing with the workers.

He said 21 protesters were arrested and are still in detention, but he has yet to check if they are from the group of workers or from Kadamay. He said they will be filing criminal charges against them.

 

Contractualization

ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio said only less than 10 percent of NutriAsia's 1,400 workers are regular employees. He said the company most known for its condiments taps contracting agencies for its manpower, production, logistics, sanitation, and security needs.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in February said over 900 workers of NutriAsia should be regularized.

It said NutriAsia and three of its contracting agencies were found violating labor rules.

"In a compliance order issued by DOLE Regional Office 4A Director Zenaida Angara-Campita, the companies were directed to give regular employment status to 914 of their workers," the agency said in a February 23 statement.

DOLE said the companies were engaged in labor-only contracting, commonly referred to as contractualization. It said DOLE's compliance workers also found some violations of Occupational Safety and Health Standards during their inspection. Other findings of the inspectors include violations of the general labor standards, such as underpayment of basic wages and other wage-related benefits.

"Nutri-Asia and its three contractors — Alternative Network Resources Unlimited Multipurpose Cooperative, Serbiz Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and B-Mirk Enterprises Corporation — were found violating labor laws and general labor standards, and engaged in labor-only contracting activities," it said.

It is still unclear if NutriAsia is appealing the compliance order.

Duterte issued an executive order on Labor Day, May 1, clamping down on illegal contracting and subcontracting of workers.

Related: Duterte orders clampdown on illegal contracting and subcontracting of workers

Labor-only contracting or contractualization is already prohibited in the Labor Code and Labor Department order 174, or the implementing rules on three articles of the Code.

Contractualization refers to the outsourcing of work that is essential or a key role in a business operation.

It also refers to the hiring of employees from a contracting agency — for example, a manpower agency that supplies security guards to companies — that does not have substantial capital or investments in tools and supervision.

'Blood in our condiments'

Several netizens called on the public to boycott the condiment brands under NutriAsia.

 

 

NutriAsia, in a statement on Friday, asked the workers to continue their dialogue with their manpower service provider, B-Mirk Enterprises.

It added it respects the right of the workers to peaceful assembly, but it also asked workers to give other employees access to the NutriAsia facilities.