Remaining quiet has never led to justice: Reflections on a solidarity trip with NutriAsia Workers
People's organisations call for regularisation & rights during a solidarity caravan with NutriAsia workers (Photo by Vidushi Dahiya)
“We workers make NutriAsia goods found in every house in Philippines and we ourselves starve as we sleep every night.”
- A worker at the picket line
It was a long and tiring two-hour journey from Quezon City to the picket line of the NutriAsia workers, in front of afactory in Bulacan. However, we could not be tired enough yet. We reached the area and walked to the picket line, slogans filling the air with the demand for justice. The sun burned the ground with its rays, but the burning rages within people were more intense than their burning skin. [NutriAsia Inc. and its contractors employ workers to produce major condiment brands in the Philippines. -Ed. ]
The set up near the picket line made way for known leaders of various women, LGBTQI, workers, peasant movements and even Christian associations to come together and make solidarity speeches. They made the workers aware that they were not alone. The spirit of the people at the picket line was reflected in their raised signs and placards as well. Hence, the social message was sent to these big corporations that the workers of the Philippines do not approve of the injustice met out to them. They did not approve of the contractual employment system under which many of them were employed. [Also known in the Philippines and in other countries as “contractualisation,” where workers are hired not by the principal company such as NutriAsia but through “agencies” or employment contractors; an arrangement that cuts costs for the company but leaving workers prone to abuses as employer responsibilities are weakened. -Ed.]
I was given relevant information about the ”contractual system” of employment before visiting the picket line. However, the inside story only came from the workers themselves; workers, who were sitting by the walls near the sidewalks, burning in the heat and struggling for their demands. A few people stood on the road to block all vehicles that belonged to NutriAsia, that is, to halt the corporation’s daily operations as part of the strike.
When we sat down to talk with the workers, they spread a sheet of tarpaulin with great respect and made us sit with them. A few of them were really keen on sharing their struggles to help us understand their situation better. The language was a barrier between the workers and me, as someone who does not speak the local language. But through videos, which I recorded for later translation, as well as notes of other participants, I understood the significance of the workers’ assertions.
The workers explained that their pay was 380 Philippine pesos per day at a no-work-no-pay basis. Expected length of daily work is twelve hours and overtime pay amounts to 59.38 an hour; with an additional 4.75 an hour for graveyard shift. The contractual workers are not entitled to sick leave. Interestingly, the corporation assumes that workers are not supposed to get sick in any case and work for 7