labor rights

Labor department stops workers’ strike at Xavier-Ateneo de Cagayan

Herbie Gomez
Labor department stops workers’ strike at Xavier-Ateneo de Cagayan

The Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan on Corrales Street in Cagayan de Oro

Herbie Gomez/Rappler

'This is a big slap to labor relations, and doesn’t speak well of a Catholic university,' says ALU-TUCP regional vice president Proculo Sarmen

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The labor department on Wednesday, March 16, stepped in and stopped workers from continuing the strike they staged against the Jesuit-owned Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan in protest of acts seen as union-busting.

The workers went back to work and followed the assumption of jurisdiction order issued by Labor Undersecretary Philip Paredes which had the immediate effect of stopping the strike. Paredes signed the order as acting secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

But the workers’ lawyer, Proculo Sarmen, said the union would continue to hold demonstrations at a park outside the university. 

Xavier-Ateneo president Father Mars Tan hailed the DOLE order, saying it was a recognition of “the importance of the university as an educational institution, and that any disruption in our operations will prejudice our learners and the general public.”

In an earlier statement, Tan said he was “deeply concerned about the repercussions of the strike on the university’s operations and services to our students in the flexible learning set-up, including the emotional and financial impact on our employees, the community, and other stakeholders.”

Sarmen, the regional vice president for Northern Mindanao of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), welcomed Paredes’ order because that meant all motions and petitions about the case would be handled by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

Until Wednesday, the labor dispute was up for mediation, under the jurisdiction of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) in Northern Mindanao.

Sarmen said he was disappointed, too, that the dispute has reached the level of the NLRC.

“This is a big slap to labor relations, and doesn’t speak well of a Catholic university,” he said. “We appeal that they (university representatives) sit down with us, and settle this dispute.”

Members of the XU Non-Teaching Employees Union (XUNTELU), an affiliate of ALU-TUCP, stopped working on Wednesday after last-minute talks brokered by the NCMB on Tuesday reached a stalemate.

The 140-member XUNTELU had voted to stage the strike to demand that its representatives – Jermie Danuco and Orlin Torillo – be recognized by the university as the union moves to negotiate for a fresh collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Danuco is the union’s newly elected president while Torillo serves as the group’s treasurer.

The problem is that Xavier-Ateneo terminated the services of Danuco as a clerk at the university’s grade school in February. 

On January 21, seven days after her separation notice was served, she wrote to the Xavier-Ateneo management to inform the school that she and Torillo, another worker, were elected officers of the union. 

The services of Torillo, a worker at the school’s admissions and aid office, were also terminated by the university.

Sarmen said XUNTELU would continue demonstrations at a park in front of the university to express the workers’ grievances.

He said negotiations for a fresh CBA between the university and the union have already been delayed for more than two years, and it would not start until Xavier-University recognized the workers’ group’s representatives.

In its order, DOLE stopped the strike because that would result in “the unavailability of the much-needed educational services to the prejudice of its clients, particularly the students, and the public in general.”

“At this point, it is worthy to note that when efforts of the government are largely focused on preserving the economic gains already achieved and ensuring that employment levels are maintained and even enhanced, it is the utmost concern of this Office to avoid work stoppages, particularly so when there are alternative mechanisms in place to resolve the parties’ differences,” read part of Paredes’ order.

Paredes ordered that the labor dispute about the separation of Danuco and Torillo be subject to “immediate compulsory arbitration” before the NLRC.

Tan, meanwhile, said the university management was committed to ending the dispute “and the healing of broken relationships – all in the service of our educational mission.”

He said the university exhausted efforts to avoid the labor dispute and called the XUNTELU’s March 15 decision to stage the labor strike “unfortunate” because it would have affected 13,000 students of the university.

“As part of Xavier-Ateneo’s identity as a Filipino, Catholic, and Jesuit University, we aim to promote a healthy and harmonious labor-management relationship, where XU employees can flourish and whose rights are upheld,” read part of Tan’s statement.

He alleged that the matter worsened because of “external forces” who pushed their “narrow interests and agenda.”

Tan said the threat to paralyze the university’s operations unless the two workers were reinstated exposed “their real agenda which are not definitely the welfare of the majority of their members and the education of the XU students and pupils.”

Danuco has questioned the university’s move to terminate her services and accused it of unfair labor practice.

She was offered a job under a flexible-work-arrangements scheme that was resorted to as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the university, Danuco rejected the offer thrice and by the time she agreed to take the offer, the job was already given to another furloughed worker.

Danuco questioned the move and filed a petition for her reinstatement to her old position at the XU Grade School, but the university said it was “untenable” given the closure of its campus for elementary graders in Macasandig.

The NCMB decided in favor of Xavier-Ateneo on October 27, 2021, following months of mediation proceedings. –

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