By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA CRUZ, Laguna – The union of workers at Wyeth Philippines is preparing for a strike following the dismissal of 140 workers.
On May 18, Wyeth-Nestle management laid off 140 workers, comprising 125 union members including 10 union officers, one manager, and 14 supervisors. The union has described the lay-offs as a “gross violation” of their Collective Bargaining Agreement, and “a clear-cut case of union busting.”
“We were blind-sided by the decision,” said Debie Faigmani , president of the Wyeth Philippines Progressive Workers’ Union (WPPWU-DFA-KMU). “We simply found out when we were about to clock in for the day and they wouldn’t let us enter. We couldn’t help but be angry.”
The union filed a notice of strike last May 20 at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board.
According to Wyeth management, the lay-offs were necessary to address “operational efficiencies at the factory.” It has insisted that no lock-out took place and that they “respect [their] employees’ rights, including the freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly.”
Wyeth Philippines has a workforce of 614 regular employees. WPPWU estimates the total workforce to be around 800 if contractual employees are included.
As of press time, the fences and gates of the Wyeth factory in barangay Canlubang, Calamba are covered with tarpaulins. According to WPPWU, the factory is in shutdown until June 20 “due to maintenance.”
According to Faigmani, Wyeth Philippines reported a net profit of over P2 billion (US$111.56 million) in 2020 alone. Additionally, Nestle’s 2022 annual review reported that sales in the Philippines accounted for P164.4 billion ($9.17 billion), or a 0.4 percent year-on-year increase.
“There’s really no basis for [Wyeth-Nestle management] to say that they are losing money,” said Faigmani.
Rumors of lay-offs have been circulating since the start of the year. The union repeatedly sought out dialogues with management in an attempt to address concerns.
In a May 10 meeting, Faigmani and other union officers questioned Wyeth’s rationale in laying off 140 workers. Despite this, management responded that “more efforts are needed to be made in cost-cutting.”
Two days later, management announced a month-long shut down to save cost. Shift schedules were left unchanged until the sudden lock-out on May 18.
Other groups slammed Wyeth-Nestle for their attitude towards workers. Kilusang Mayo Uno said that the dismissals were a “grave violation of the workers’ rights to freedom of association.”
“It’s clear that there was no process in the lay-offs; that what happened was clear union busting meant to salvage profit,” said KMU Chairperson Elmer Labog.
Labog called out Nestle for their track record in disrespecting labor rights in the Philippines.
At least two Nestle union presidents have been assassinated during the company’s presence in the Philippines: Meliton Roxas in 1989 and Diosdado Fortuna in 2005. In 2021, twenty one Wyeth employees and union members were also dismissed by management.
The Student Christian Movement of the Philippines also condemned the dismissal, stating that “the humane thing to do is to respect workers’ rights and welfare, to hold the CBA between workers and management.” SCMP also noted that Nestle, who has owned Wyeth since 2012, has a “long history of union-busting in the Philippines.”
As recently as last year, Wyeth employees and union members have been targets of house-to-house campaigns by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, as part of its red-tagging campaign against unionists.
Issues about workers’ rights to freedom of association have become a trend in the Philippines. In Laguna alone, multiple unions have reported instances of management and state forces meddling in union affairs.
These concerns have reached the International Labor Organization, which conducted a High-Level Tripartite Mission recently to investigate the state of labor rights in the Philippines. The ILO HLTM found “grave concerns” in labor rights and recommended that the Philippine government take concrete action in addressing them.
On April 28, Marcos Jr. signed Executive Order 23, creating an inter-agency committee to address concerns raised by the International Labor Organization’s High Level Tripartite Mission conducted last March.
The inter-agency committee is composed of different agencies, including the Department of Labor and Employment, the National Security Council, and the Philippine National Police. However, KMU does not think that the inter-agency committee can actually address concerns.
“We do not see it as having any actual teeth,” said Labog, noting that the inter-agency committee “has almost the same composition as NTF-ELCAC.”
He also pointed out the lack of worker representation in the committee. “Workers are the biggest stakeholders in labor, so any committee without workers cannot be truly representative of our interests.”