Spotlight interview with Josephine de Jesus

Published by anna Date posted on November 22, 2005

josephinejesusweb“Management and workers must work hand in hand. Not only for the company’s success but also for the sake of the employees.”

Brussels, 22 November 2005 (ICFTU OnLine): No union-busting activity. No unfair labour practices. No sexual harassment. Unlike many of EPZ employees in the Philippines, Josephine de Jesus doesn’t have much to complain about. She works for the Japanese-owned Mitsumi company which supplies Nintendo, Sony or Pioneer with electronic parts used in all kinds of audio or video equipment devices.

A responsible local union and a receptive management have been working hand in hand for the benefit of everyone. A series of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) have been concluded and implemented in partnership. This uncommon but remarkable example shows that social dialogue between workers and the management can take place even in the Philippine export-processing zones.

How long have you been working in Mitsumi? How many workers does it employ? And what kind of electronic products does it manufacture?

I have been working in Mitsumi for the past 25 years now. I know the factory since it was established in the Philippines in June 1980. I am a very loyal worker. I am currently occupying the position of line leader in the warehouse section.

We manufacture head poles, transformers, parts of radio components used for TV, computers and other kinds of electronic devices. We supply world-famous brands such as Sony, Pioneer and Samsung.

When it comes to job generation, Mitsumi is the biggest company of the Bataan Economic Zone. We belong to one of the 100% Japanese-owned companies. Although the head management is Japanese, Filipino managers are the ones dealing with Filipino workers.

Ninety-five percent of our 5,000 total working force are women. Only half of the workers are union members. According to one of our CBA provisions, once a rank-and-file worker is regularized he or she automatically becomes a member of the union.

Other non-unionized staff members are composed of trainees placed by a government agency with lower salary, contractual workers, managerial employees, and workers waiting to get regularized.

What was your personal motivation in joining the union? Why did you decide to become a union officer later on?

When I was hired by Mitsumi, I noticed that some of my co-workers who encountered problems with the management didn’t dare to voice them out. Before we formed a union, I used to be the one explaining my co-workers’ problems and difficulties to the supervisor or manager.

When we started organizing the union and had elections, my fellow workers wanted me to run as union officer. I refused. But some union organizers of Associated Labour Unions (ALU) who believed in my potential as a leader eventually convinced me to run one year later.

After I got married, I stopped from being active in the union for almost three years. I resigned as union officer to raise my kids because the position entails a lot of meetings. But since unionism is in my blood, I couldn’t resist for long. When my children grew up, I went back to organizing and got involved more actively again.

The story of ALU in the whole Bataan EPZ started here in Mitsumi. After organizing Mitsumi, we went to other companies and met with workers. Union officers of Mitsumi and those of other companies became friends. We were the ones convincing all the other companies to set up their own local union.

When a strike was staged in others companies of the EPZ, all the workers mobilized themselves and gathered as a sign of solidarity. We supported the strike of other unions affiliated with ALU but only after our working time. That was the start of “companionship” with all the workers from the same EPZ.

Union-busting activities are commonly carried out in EPZ firms in the Philippines. How come your local union was able to enter the factory?

In many EPZ companies, the management usually terminates its employees if they are try to form a union inside the factory and threatens the workers who want to join the union. But Mitsumi management thinks differently. In their factories in Japan unions are present and active, too. That is why they understand the importance of creating unions inside the company.

When Japanese investors came in the Philippines in the early ‘80s, they were afraid of radical communist unions and therefore allowed the ALU organizers to go in. The first union organizers applied in Mitsumi as regular workers although they were already members of ALU. From 1980 to 1982, the organizing process was already going on little by little inside the company.

Recruiting members was easier at that time. Most of the workers believed that it was better for them to set up a union for their security of tenure. The argument was: if we have no union, the management can terminate a worker anytime it wants. But if there is a union, due process must be observed prior to any termination.

We used to do door-to-door campaign to meet with the workers. Then we organized the certification election and election of officers. And we began negotiating a CBA. Now workers of other companies in the same EPZ often approach Mitsumi union officers to find out how they can change systems within their company in a more productive way.

Since the formation of our union, we would rather conduct a series of seminars as a continuing education effort for our members. Nowadays every time a meeting is held, we include the topic of “rules and regulations” of the company.

Unlike in other EPZs, where the various companies are scattered around and far from each other, here, in Mariveles, there are only few buildings. Getting along with workers from other companies is quite easy for the union officers. This helps us explaining them what unionism is all about and how to set up their own union. It is much more difficult in Cavite for example where workers have to take a ride to go out of the EPZ and there is no communication between workers from the different companies.

Compared to other EPZ companies, are you satisfied with the working conditions and salary you get?

Mitsumi workers get much more than the P224.50 minimum wage provided by law. My daily salary goes up to P497 because of my 25 years of experience. The newly arrived regular workers get P259 because of the CBA increase. Still our salaries are said to be among the highest in the whole EPZ.

Out of the 16 companies in the Bataan Export Zones, only 10 are organized. When there is no union, workers earn only P168 a day, which constitutes a gross violation of the Philippine law. Workers receiving below the minimum wage is a recurrent and pressing problem in the Philippine EPZ.

Inside the factory the air condition system is centralized. And we enjoy a clean working area. We are told by other employees that in some companies the ventilation is often not working and may be very hot. Mitsumi satisfactorily met and passed all kinds of certification and requirements related to occupational health and safety.

Did the local union have a hard time getting the CBA concluded with the management? What benefits have been introduced for the workers?

Yes. Our first CBA was signed and ratified in 1982. It brought us few benefits because we just started. Later after the expiration of the first CBA we tried to get more benefits little by little. Before the CBA was a three-year term. Now it is a five-year term.

Before, we always had to go to the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) because we could not come to an agreement with the management. But for the last CBA, which is still to be ratified, we met only three times before the deal was made.

What are the changes we made? Thanks to this new CBA we hope to get a P15 wage increase. We were told that the management could only give us that much. Our initial proposal was P70. Then we cut it half. But we eventually went down to P20 then P15. Globalisation has made the negotiations harder. It has become more difficult to bargain.

Aside from the salary, we were also able to negotiate various benefits such as separation pay, maternity leave, sick leave and vacation leave, emergency leave, wedding leave, birthday gift or Christmas gift. If the law prescribes 60 days of maternity leave for normal delivery, we try to get 66 days. Sports activities, which were launched last April, were also part of the benefits.

For the newly ratified CBA to be implemented, we need to get 80% of our membership to approve it. I am confident we can get it. The next step is to schedule the signing of the CBA with the union officers, the federations and the management. A copy of the CBA will then be handed over to the federations and be registered at the Department of Labour.

Has the management ever threatened you of relocating their production to other cheap-labour countries? Would you take those threats seriously?

So far they haven’t relocated any part of their production. But they could easily do it. Every time we begin a CBA negotiation round, the management always tells us that if we ask more than what is reasonable that it is better for them to transfer to China or even to the Philippine island of Cebu. Compared to us, the Mitsumi factory in Cebu is actually cheaper in terms of labour costs. Wages are lower there because there is no union.

At the beginning, Mitsumi in Bataan employed only 800 workers compared to more than 5,000 today. The company has been expanding its operations. Building three new plants here shows that the management intends to stay in the country.

Of course if we ask for bigger benefits all in one time, the company can afford to grant them. But for how long? After three months the company closes if we are asking too much. We, the union officers, can always find a way to survive. But what about our union members? What will happen to their children? That is why being a union officer is a big responsibility.

Has there ever been a case of sexual harassment?

Actually we had a case of sexual harassment, our members went to the union office and we talk to the management. We demanded the Filipino manager who was found guilty get punished. They listened to us and they punished him. Since then it has never happened again.

Several years ago, a female worker from Mitsumi was raped on the way from the town of Mariveles to the EPZ while going to work on a night schedule. The union filed a case against the tricycle driver who was the raper. Night shift work is really needed by the management. Maybe in the next CBA we could demand from the management to provide a transportation service at night.

Workers who cannot go to work but didn’t inform the superior are given a suspension. If some workers from the warehouse department encounter this kind of problem, they turn to me for assistance. As much as possible we try to settle this kind of problem with the supervisor first before going to top management.

Interview by Laurent Duvillier

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