The Central Azucarera Don Pedro Inc. (CADPI) was able to avert a labor strike in its Batangas refinery plant after signing a compromise agreement with its labor unions last week.
National Congress of the Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines (NCUSIP) President Roland de la Cruz, however, lamented the outcome of the deal forged last January 24 as it will result in the permanent displacement of 125 workers, who were affected by the decision of CADPI to shut down its sugar mill.
“Almost all of the [affected] employees have already accepted their fate. They already filed a quit claim and they already accepted the separation pay. It was a bitter pill for us to swallow (as we entered) into a compromise,” de la Cruz told BusinessMirror in a phone interview.
“Of course, we cannot stop them [from accepting the separation package] especially if they are already experiencing hunger. Some of them are looking for new employment, while others have already reported to their new employers,” he said in Filipino.
The labor leader, however, said the groups were able to win some concessions from the CADPI management, including a P10,000 cash benefit on top of the separation package already received by the affected workers.
He also said they were able to secure a signed commitment from the CADPI management that they will be informed on future “significant changes in company personnel policies.”
NCUSIP stressed the importance of the said document since they received reports that the management is planning to implement another round of job cuts next month.
The two labor unions of CADPI—the Batangas Labor Union (BLU), which covers the rank and file employees, and the Professional Technical Workers Union (PTWU)—are affiliated with the NCUSIP.
“If they push through with their planned job cuts, we may no longer be open to mediation. We may push through with our plans to hold a strike (vote),” de la Cruz said.
Despite losing many of its members, the labor unions of CADPI have retained their bargaining power as well as their existing Collective Bargaining Agreement with their management, which will remain effective until 2027, according to de la Cruz.
The strike, he said, will be their last resort as the unions want to preserve the jobs of the remaining CADPI employees.
NCUSIP filed a notice of strike at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) after CADPI suddenly announced its decision to close its sugar mill operations without informing its workers beforehand.
After 9 conciliation and mediation meetings facilitated by the DOLE, the strike notice was finally settled last week.
Aid to affected workers
To provide aid to the affected workers, DOLE-Region 4-A Director Ma. Karina B. Trayvilla said Labor and Employment Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma ordered the release of P80 million to provide emergency employment and livelihood to workers and sugar farmers, who were affected by the closure of the CADPI sugar mill.
She said the program will cover 2,000 beneficiaries, which include displaced milling plant workers, sugarcane field workers, and small farm cultivators/small planters.
The bulk or 988 of the beneficiaries are from the Pagkakaisa ng mga Manggagawa sa Tubuhan (PAMATU).
“Majority of the profiled first batch of field workers will be deployed for school and coastal clean ups, apart from seedling preparation, as projects under the TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers) program. They are set to start 10-day work this week,” Trayvilla told BusinessMirror in a Viber message.
She said the profiling of those who will avail of their livelihood assistance is still ongoing.
SRA in talks with CADPI
The Sugar Regulatory Administration said it has urged CADPI to reopen its sugar mill to ensure that the sugarcanes harvested by its client planters will be milled.
SRA board member Pablo Azcona, who represents the sugar planters sector, said the closure of CADPI’s sugar mill in Batangas was “very unfortunate.” Azcona said the closure “caught everybody by surprise” including SRA officials.
“We did not know about it. We even talked to them [CADPI] a week before they decided to close their mill,” he said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Azcona said the SRA board has two priority options to help the displaced planters of CADPI’s sugar mill: allow alternative mills for the planters’ sugarcanes and convince CADPI management to reopen their mill just for the current crop year.
“Right now we’re currently talking to the nearest sugar mill from them which is Tarlac, and we’re finding out if we can send some of the sugarcanes there,” he said.
“We’re also trying to talk to the management of CADPI to find a way to run their mill even temporarily just for this milling season.”
Azcona said sugarcane planters in Batangas who are CADPI’s clients were also “surprised” by the closure.
He said the failure to mill the sugarcanes of the displaced planters could affect the country’s overall sugar production.
The BusinessMirror reported last month that the Gokongwei-lead Universal Robina Corp. (URC) will purchase as much sugarcane as possible from Batangas planters displaced by the permanent shut down of CADPI’s sugar mill (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2023/01/19/urcs-sugar-mill-to-helpcadpi-displaced-farmers/).
URC Sugar and Renewables General Manager Rene Cabati said the firm’s sugar mill in Balayan, Batangas is now ready to accept sugarcane from planters affected by CADPI’s sugar mill closure.
To increase the country’s raw sugar output, he said he had proposed to revert to the original start of the milling season to October as this will allow sugarcanes to grow more, which could lead into higher sugar content.
“A lot of the mills have opened in August this [crop] year because the price was very attractive. The farmers harvested their sugarcanes even if they are only 9 or 10 months old, and this will have less sugar content,” he said.
“If we delay [the milling season] to October that is an instant 5 to 10 percent increase in production for everybody.”