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19 August 2008

Hanjin Repressing Trade Union Rights in the Philippines

“We need to work in order survive and provide for our families but working at Hanjin is like putting my foot in the grave. We need to organize to change our situation or we will all die inhumanely,” stated Ramil Etac, the newly-elected President of the Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction - Philippines Incorporated (HHIC-Philippines Inc.)

More than 300 workers - both construction and ship building workers - at the HHIC-Philippines Incorporated participated in a General Assembly on July 6, 2008 to formally launch the HHIC Workers’ Union (HHICWU) with the hope of improving their working conditions, increasing their wages, and ensuring that they are treated like human beings.

The HHIC-Philippines Incorporated began its operations at the Subic Freeport Zone in Zambales in 2005 with the construction and building of the infrastructure for the ship building facilities. In the first phase of the operations an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 construction workers will be employed and by the second phase which began earlier this year, another 30,000 ship building workers are scheduled to be hired. The company is the biggest direct foreign investments (FDI) project in the region that is expected to boost the economic condition of the residents in the area by providing skills training as well as direct and indirect employment. The Philippines government has leased the facility to the HHIC-Philippines Incorporated for fifty years.
For the past year, the National Union of Building and Construction Workers (NUBCW) has conducted a series of consultation meetings, labour law and rights seminars, legal and employment contract sessions, and trade unionism and worker rights trainings for workers working at the ship building facility operated by HHIC-Philippines Incorporated in Subic in Central Luzon. As a result of these efforts, the workers organized and decided to consolidate their strength to fight for their rights as workers and as human beings and to put an end to the inhumane working conditions at HHIC-Philippines Incorporated. However, like all major multinational corporations, the response to the union was repression.

Immediately following the establishment of the union the HHIC-Philippines Incorporated management began to harass elected union officers and member by transferring them to the new HHIC-Philippines Incorporated site in Mindanao, demoting them, and down grading their salaries. In addition, the company initiated a management-led action on July 9 to “incriminate” union members as being the supposed instigators of the “protest” in an effort to terminate the employment contracts of union leaders.

Some of those terminated were not even near the supposed action site and thus were surprised by the notices. In fact one worker was not at work as he had to take his sick child to the hospital. To date, 14 HHIC Workers Union leaders and members have been terminated for no other reason but for organizing to fight for their legitimate rights as workers. Those who have been terminated are barred from entry into the facility as their photos are placed like criminals in security posts throughout the facility.

The HHIC-Philippines Incorporated management also threatened to terminate 400 workers if the union did not cease their organizing efforts. They have even asked workers to sign “loyalty vow” documents to ensure continuous employment at the ship building facility. The management has also blocked the IDs of active members; thereby, barring them from entering the facility without any sufficient reason. Then, the members are charged with absence without leave (AWOL) enabling the management to suspend or terminate their employment contracts.
A major concern for the workers and the union is safety within the facility, as there has been a series of accidents resulting in a number of injuries and deaths. This past week police announced that another worker was killed at the facility. With this recent death a total of 13 workers have been killed since HHIC-Philippines Incorporated began its operations in 2006.

Both in March and June of this year, NUBCW issued statements raising concerns about the increasing number of fatal accidents in Subic. At the time Ernesto Arellano, President NUBCW stated, “HHIC-Philippines Incorporated must ensure that OHS standards at the Subic facility meet international standard. We call for an independent body to investigate the OHS violations at Subic so that workers do not have to pay with their lives to make a living.”

HHIC-Philippines Incorporated continues to not only violate health and safety standards but they are not violating worker and trade union rights through their efforts to break the organizing efforts of the HHIC Workers Union. Despite the repressive tactics of Hanjin, the workers are committed to continuing their struggle to the very end. In the words of Christine Bayon, the General Secretary of the HHIC Workers Union, “We have the right to stand up for our rights. We will no longer let Hanjin disrespect and treat us animals. We will continue to organize because this is the right and just thing to do. There is no turning back.”