Dennis Espada Bulatlat: It’s “Bad Food, Bad Life‚” for Nestle’s Workers
It’s Bad Food, Bad Life for Nestle’s Workers
“The next time you enter the grocery store to buy a milk or chocolate drink, please remember the plight of the Nestle workers.” This is the appeal of Nestle workers whose case against the giant Swiss-owned food multinational company drags unresolved.
by Dennis Espada Bulatlat
Cabuyao, Laguna – “Good Food, Good Life” is Nestle’s promotional line, designed to entice consumers to taste its products. For its workers, however, who have been on strike since 2001, neither life nor food could be remotely considered good.
Labor law violations
At least 100 workers led by the Union of Filipro Employees (UFE), the Nestle workers‚Äô union, stormed the Cabuyao factory gates last Aug. 10 unmindful of the container vans and barbed wires and staged a protest rally calling for the immediate resolution of the labor dispute.
The strikers were not asking for money. They demanded that the Nestl?© management comply with the 1991 Supreme Court (SC) decision which declared the retirement benefit plan as a mandatory collective bargaining issue.
In January 2002, the 600-member UFE launched a strike in adherence to the SC’s ruling when the management vehemently refused to negotiate until the retirement package is excluded, claiming it a unilateral company grant. The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the SC ruling on Feb. 27, 2003.
The case was raised to, and is currently at, the SC upon the appeal of both parties, with the union seeking the high tribunal to affirm its earlier promulgation and declare Nestl?© guilty of unfair labor practice.
Militant labor groups and their allies said Nestl?© was responsible for the four incidents of violent strike dispersals and three incidents of destruction of picket lines, use of hired armed goons and police personnel against strikers.
According to the union, the prolonged impasse has led to the death of 11 strikers due to lack of medical attention, not to mention the continuing physical harassment and death threats being endured by the union. Their children were also forced to stop schooling because they could not pay the required school fees.
UFE said that Nestl?©, through its former president and chief executive officer Juan B. Santos, who briefly served as President Macapagal-Arroyo‚Äôs trade secretary, has been expanding the operations of contracted toll packing and co-packing firms to keep costs down, and hiring contract workers who lack both knowledge and skills to produce quality food.
Touted as Asia’s milk supplier, Nestl?© also remains the single largest purchaser of coffee in the world. It controls 90-95 percent of the country’s domestic market (40,000 tons every year) and, reports also said, dictates prices to the small farmers.
According to Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers Association in Cavite), in 1979, Nestl?© initiated the massive planting of the robusta crop over the traditional arabica (also called kapeng Tagalog) and liberica (kapeng barako) which consequently dominated the coffee fields. Robusta is used in manufacturing soluble coffee.
“Pinupuno ng Nestl?© ang mga bodega nito ng sobrang suplay para sa isang taon…pinipili nito ang pinakamahuhusay na kalidad ng kape at siyang ineeksport, at ang naiiwan dito ay iyong mababa ang kalidad na siyang ginagamit sa lokal na mga produkto nito” (Nestl?© fills its warehouses more than the needed supply for one year, then chooses the coffee beans of high quality which it exports. The ones left are those of low-quality which they use for local products), Kamagsasaka-Ka found out in its research.
As part of Nestl?©‚Äôs advertising offensive, its promodizers in groceries and market stalls approach customers to check if they have purchased Nestl?© goods and they get a prize.
Noel Alemania, UFE vice-president said in an interview with Bulatlat that because of this promo, principals and teachers from public elementary schools, particularly in Cabuyao, are now requiring students to bring empty wrappers or labels in exchange for Nestl?© products. Through the schools, he said Nestl?© also gives children free school supplies and milk that are nearing expiration. ‚ÄúAll these to win over the hearts and minds of the people,‚Äù he said.
But Alemania warned that tolerating Nestl?©‚Äôs gimmicks is ‚Äútolerating Nestl?©‚Äôs exploitation of its workers and its gross violations of the law.”
Meanwhile, in its July 24 issue, the tabloid Bagong Tiktik (New Spy) narrated the story of a consumer named Shirley Abad who reportedly won a cash prize worth half a million pesos from Nestl?©’s raffle promo two years ago. The reward was however denied to her due to “questions on technicalities.” Abad sued the company and the case was even raised to the CA, it was learned.
UFE also appealed to the public: “The next time you visit the convenient store and grab a choco drink, please remember us and our plight.”
To anyone interested we also have a documentary called “There’s Blood in Your Coffee” about the on-going strike of the workers of Nestle Philippines. Contact us for more information: PinoiPunk