labor dispute

Sofitel workers to bring campaign against layoffs to international scene

Michelle Abad

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Sofitel workers to bring campaign against layoffs to international scene

LABOR WOES. Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila workers and their supporters from unions from other hotels demand retention of their employment as Sofitel has not confirmed whether its upcoming closure is permanent or temporary.


(1st UPDATE) Workers believe the hotel's closure starting July 1 may be management's way of busting their union, a claim management has denied

MANILA, Philippines – Five days before losing their jobs, the union of workers from the soon-to-close Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila said they plan to bring their campaign against their termination to the international scene.

Since Sofitel in May announced its planned July 1 closure, the hotel workers’ union has been picketing in front of the hotel, demanding that Philippine Plaza Holdings Incorporated (PPHI) settle matters with them.

But according to Marco Gojol, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant, and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN), an agreement has yet to be reached. The workers are demanding retention amid the possibility that the hotel’s closure may only be temporary.

“We will be escalating this campaign into an international campaign,” said Gojol, noting that Sofitel Manila is managed by Accor, a global hotel chain.

Gojol, in a press briefing with union representatives and supporters on Tuesday, June 25, said the union has been in several meetings with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), along with hotel management and government mediators, in a bid to resolve the employment issue.

Citing Sofitel management in the conciliation meetings, Gojol said the reason for the closure was because the building was “unsafe,” and that they planned to renovate hotel facilities.

Malaking ipinagtataka ng unyon at ng mga manggagawa – eh aayusin pala ‘yung property, ii-improve para magkaroon ng better experience ‘yung mga guests, eh bakit tinatanggal ‘yung mga workers?” said Gojol.

(The union and workers are confused – they plan to renovate the property, and improve it for guests to have a better experience, so why do they need to terminate the workers?)

A June 2023 report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer also found that PPHI had asked the Government Service Insurance System, which owns the land where Sofitel stands, to extend its lease period until 2041 to allow it to recover an investment of P3 billion to P4 billion to refurbish the hotel.

Ang analysis ng workers dito, ‘yan ang ginagawa ng Philippine Plaza Holdings Incorporated…’yan ay pamamaraan para i-bust ‘yung union,” said Gojol.

(The workers’ analysis is that Philippine Plaza Holdings Incorporated is doing this to bust the union.)

Nestor Cabada, longtime Sofitel worker and NUWHRAIN Philippine Plaza Chapter president, said their demands include retention of employment, even if it means waiting for the hotel to open again.

Sana po ‘pag nagbukas ay kami pa rin po ang kukunin bilang empleyado dahil po tingin namin ay kasama po kami kung paano pinaunlad ‘yung Sofitel, dahil sa skills, dahil sa experience na rin ng mga manggagawa doon. Dapat kami pa rin po kaysa mga bago,” said Cabada.

(If the hotel reopens, management should hire us because we believe that we’re part of the reason why Sofitel thrived, because of the skills and experience of the workers there. It should be us instead of new hires.)

In an earlier interview with Teleradyo Serbisyo on June 6, PPHI president Esteban Peña Sy denied the workers’ theory of union busting. He also said the rumors of a temporary closure were not true, while adding that the management is “not certain about the future of the hotel.”

Peña Sy said Sofitel is closing due to “safety concerns” following incidents like electric fires and elevator malfunctions.

“I want to categorically mention that the shutting down is completely due to the safety reasons. They are saying that we are trying to bust the union by closing down. I want to make it very, very clear that if we want to bust the union, we should have done that during the COVID time, the pandemic time,” he said, adding that during the pandemic, staff received their entitled benefits and no one was laid off back then.

Peña Sy also said the hotel management was helping their workers find jobs in other hotels.

In a chance interview on Wednesday, June 26, Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma also confirmed that Sofitel had filed for “total closure.”

“I don’t want to preempt them…. We allow them as much as possible discussions, articulation of their positions, so that the Office of the Secretary and the NCMB will be able to sift through their positions, and maybe at the end of the day [find] the meeting of the minds of the union representatives and management to reach a settlement,” Laguesma said on the sidelines of the 2024 National Employment Summit.

A larger platform

For Gojol, both the Sofitel management and the Philippine government are not taking the employment issue in the closure seriously. This is why the workers want to reach a larger platform.

He said NUWHRAIN is in contact with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), which is waiting for its go signal to begin the international campaign.

“They will be setting a meeting with Accor, in its head office in France, to relay that this is a violation of our agreement. The IUF and Accor have an agreement that Accor must respect the rights of its workers in all its hotels and properties,” Gojol said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The International Trade Union Confederation recently included the Philippines in its list of 10 worst countries for workers for the eighth consecutive year. Gojol believes that the situation with Sofitel would only contribute to the country maintaining its status.

Laguesma earlier said the Department of Labor and Employment was ready to assist the workers affected by the Sofitel closure, according to a News5 report.

Rappler has asked Accor’s Asia office and Sofitel for comment on the workers’ latest statements, but they have yet to respond. We will update this story once they do so. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.