LOOK: Why NutriAsia workers are on strike
BULACAN, Philippines – All they wanted was to be hired in regular positions.
Jornell Quiza, 28, was hired by contractor B-Mirk Enterprise sometime in 2010 to work for condiments company NutriAsia in Marilao, Bulacan. NutriAsia is the manufacturer of popular condiments, such as Datu Puti vinegar, Mang Tomas sauce, and UFC ketchup.
Throughout the years, he had been assigned to different tasks. He started as a bottle feeder then came to be a machine operator for popular gravy sauce Mang Tomas. After figuring in an accident and getting ill, he was eventually moved to mixing Datu Puti soy sauce.
The work was hard but he had no other choice. For P380 a day, Quiza had to work overtime so he could make ends meet.
"Kahit uniform o protective gear, kami ang nagbabayad. Sabi, ire-reimburse daw, pero hindi naman lahat [nabibigyan]. Minsan, mahigit 12 hours sa isang araw kami nagtatrabaho para lang mapagkasya 'yung sweldo namin," he said.
(Even uniforms or protective gear, we pay for it. They said they will reimburse, but not all receive reimbursement. Sometimes, we work more than 12 hours a day so that we have enough salary.)
He said he received no salary adjustments in his 7 years with NutriAsia as an outsourced worker.
Quiza's experience was not an isolated case. It was the norm for more than a thousand outsourced workers, mostly hired through contracting agencies.
When they created a union among B-Mirk employees doing outsourced jobs in NutriAsia in April, officers were laid off.
The workers say they were suspected as union members when they held a noise barrage during a work day – they clapped for around 15 minutes. Suspected members, they added, were "threatened" with suspensions.
In June, they decided they couldn't take it anymore. And so they went to the streets to hold a strike.
Jessie Gerola, president of Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng NutriAsia Inc, led 200 people composed of workers and supporters, in holding a picket line across the factory in Marilao in June 4.
The act forced NutriAsia to suspend operations, as the picket barred entry to the plant. (READ: PH still among world's 'worst' countries to work in – report)
The NutriAsia management sought for a temporary restraining order (TRO) from a Regional Trial Court in Bulacan, and succeeded in getting not only one but two TROs.
Come Thursday, June 14, hundreds of policemen and security personnel guarded the gate of NutriAsia to enforce the said TROs. Those who joined the picket line were forced to leave.
But when a woman worker tried taking a video with her phone, a policeman shoved her arm to stop her from recording. Violence ensued.
"Sila nag-umpisang tanggalin ang mga kubol namin. Dahil kokonti lang kami sa picket namin noon, pinilit kami i-disperse palabas. Tinulak kami sa batikwasan," Gerola told Rappler.
(They started to remove our makeshift camps. Because there were few of us in the picket line at that time, they dispersed us by forcing us out. They pushed us to the boundary.)
Quiza was also part of the picket line that Thursday afternoon. He and protesters laid to the ground, hoping that the police would not hit them.
"Wala naman kaming mga armas panlaban, kaya dumapa na lang kami," Quiza said. (We don't have arms for fighting, that's why we laid down to the ground.)
But instead of exercising restraint, Quiza said that the police surrounded them and went on to beat them.
"Gusto kong tumakas, gusto kong umalis para hindi ako mapalo sana. Lumusob [sila] tapos pinaghahampas ako nang pinaghahampas," he said. (I wanted to escape, I wanted to leave so I won't be hit. But they came over me and continuously hit me.)
Junel Padaylap, Quiza's co-worker, received a heavy beating as well.
"Hindi sila tumitigil. Hanggang sa may tao doon na nakahiga, papaluin nila yun nang papaluin," Padaylap said. (They didn't stop. As long as there was someone lying there, they will continue to hit them.)
The only way that made the police stop was when they acted as if they were dead. And then, they ran away.
"Nagpapatay patayan [na lang] kami. Kapag di kami umalis doon, dadalhin kami sa presinto tapos kakasuhan pa kami," he added. (We played dead. If we didn't leave, they will bring us to the precinct and file charges against us.)
Seventeen people, workers and supporters included, were detained at Meycauayan City and Marilao police stations after the dispersal. A minor, who was part of the leftist group supporters, was even among those detained.
But the police downplayed the incident, saying it was merely a "confrontation." They also blamed urban poor group Kadamay for allegedly instigating the violence.
A day after the violent dispersal, NutriAsia appeared to be heavily guarded still.
Several policemen and security personnel were at the gate of the condiments factory, refusing entry to anyone but authorized vehicles and people who live within the compound.
NutriAsia management, in a statement, denied that it was engaging in illegal labor practices. They said they "ensure that B-Mirk group provides all mandated benefits to its regular employees."
"For about two weeks, they (workers) managed to prohibit entry to and exit from the plant, which not only completely paralyzed operations but also disrupted the livelihood of fellow workers," the company added.
In an interview with Rappler, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) denounced the violence on Thursday, as well as the interference by the police and the RTC on the dispute.
Back in February, DOLE had ordered NutriAsia to place over 900 workers in permanent positions. It found that NutriAsia's contractors were engaging in labor-only contracting practices.
Moreover, DOLE said that NutriAsia was found violating labor laws and general labor standards.
"Ang gusto lang namin, pakinggan nila kami. Bina-balewala 'yung sakripisyo namin, 'di nila kinikilala na kami ang gumagawa ng produkto nila," Quiza said. (What we want is for them to hear us. They disregard our sacrifices, and they don't acknowledge that it is us who make their products.)– Rappler.com
Jane Bautista is a Rappler intern. She studies journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman.