Ororama workers re-assert rights

Aug. 21, 2009

By Media Mindanao News Service

News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988 Posted by Davao Today

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MMNS/August 31, 1987) — For nearly three months, 43 dismissed workers of the Ororama fastfood section stood under the sun and rain – one group on a strip of island on J.R. Borja street and another on the fringes of the old cemetery here. The presence of alleged management-hired goons menaced the workers from protesting their dismissal on the picketline–which means the sidewalk near the entrance of one of the city’s biggest department store.

Days wore on and their morale and numbers whittled. It seemed to some like a lost cause especially when owner See Hong was clearly in control of things. By leasing the fastfoods to wives of high-ranking Constabulary officers, Ororama conveniently circumvented the employer-employee relationship between management and the terminated workers. The cases filed by the workers against their illegal dismissal and the presence of goons are dragging at the labor relations court. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) was reluctant to move against Ororama for some unknown reasons.

Management has always insisted that they have not hired goons. Instead, they called the persons guarding their entrances as members of the workers’ Alliance of Trade Unions (WATU), a union to which majority of the workers is supposed to belong even if no certification elections in memory ever took place.

A closer look, however, reveals otherwise. Many of these WATU members are said to be known criminals who are out on bail. Some are notorious thieves operating in Cogon market and other drug pushers and dregs recruited from the innards of the city. But for economic reasons they too have earn a few pesos by preying on the protesting workers.

So hard was the struggle that even fastfoods chief cook Romualdo Alberca had to contend with whatever his colleagues could shell out so he could feed his family. In instances, it was humiliating when goons would harass them with punches and kicks, or confiscate their placards. They were pushed too hard, stripped of their dignity as workers yet they stood their ground meekly as if still prepared to absorb more blows.

Not for long, however. On Sunday, August 9, the dismissed workers, together with their supporters from militant sectoral organizations, rallied to show the fight was still on. The WATU members, some hooded but all armed with truncheons did not expect the protesters to be assertive although equipped only with placards just a few meters away. When they pushed the crowd with sticks and roughed up the demonstrators away from See Hong’s property line, the proverbial all hell broke loose.

Initially, the protesters, spearheaded by the Nakahiusang Mamumuo sa Ororama-Southern Philippines Federation of Labor (NAGMO-SPFL), moved back and snapped the handles from their placards. A hail of stones, some hurled by sympathetic bystanders, landed on the goons’ positions and the protesters surged for close combat with sticks. It took about seven minutes for the workers to subdue the goons to all who sought shelter inside Ororama. An attempt to counter-attack was quickly foiled by the fired-up demonstrators. Like in the movies, the police lived up to its role – arriving only when the fight was over. In confusion, firemen water-cannoned the demonstrators provoking the latter’s ire.

Promptly after, Ororama started its own media blitz to answer a barrage of protest letters aired over radio programs. Peter Dee, one of See’s managers, called NAGMO counsel Mariano Carrasco a liar for saying that the fight was provoked by their men. And by virtually placing ads in major TV and radio programs, Ororama has succeeded in keeping the news of the clash at low levels. Now Ororama loyalist employees talk that there is nothing wrong with neither the management nor their pay.

If there is an improvement at the P17 average daily wage management used to give to their workers, it is mainly due to the outbreak of worker protest starting last January. A pledge by the management to raise the wage to P30 plus overtime and not to launch retribution against NAGMO leaders, were among those that resulted from the wildcat strike. However, this was violated when management abruptly closed the fastfood sections effectively terminating nine NAGMO leaders.

Negotiations convened by City Mayor Pablo Magtajas and Gov. Vicente Emano between the workers’ lawyers, Carrasco and Greg Pizarro, and See have stalemated. Neither side is prepared to accept the other’s term. One superficial reason for the negotiations was the approach of the city fiesta. Two military investors have reportedly withdrawn from the fastfood lease.

Meanwhile, the dismissed workers remain vigilant just in case management decides to use violence against to achieve, what they call, as the peace of the graveyard. The Ororama sidewalk is just a cold piece of pavement yet to the dismissed workers it is symbolic of their re-assertion of their rights. (Media Mindanao News Service News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988 Posted by Davao Today)

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