Coke chokes workers, Davao police illegally arrests unionists protesting violations vs workers’ rights – Karapatan

Karapatan condemned the violent dispersal of striking Coca Cola workers in Davao City on April 2, 2018 and the subsequent illegal arrest of 10 union members, all belonging to the Kilusan ng Manggagawa Laban sa Coca-Cola (KIMACO), an affiliate of national labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). 


(Photo: Members of KIMACO-KMU protest outside the Coca-Cola plant in Davao City on April 2, 2018. Kath Cortez |Davao Today)


The workers staged a strike last Monday when elements of the Davao City police violently dispersed and arrested the unionists. The striking workers demanded the reinstatement of 72 of their members who were dismissed by their agency last month. Those arrested were Sustenes Bantayan, chairperson of KIMACO-KMU, Ricardo Sales, Ryan Balera, Reynaldo Mane, Antonino Bayawan, Ayan Dibalgui, Jesse Monticillo, Alvin Buccat, Ronnel Calacat, and Michael Olan-Olan. They were charged with grave coercion and disobedience and are currently detained at the Talomo police station.

“For asserting what is due them, laid-off Coca-cola workers were imprisoned. This is a summary of how corporations, in cahoots with government, respond to protest and clamor for people’s rights. The incident also provides a snapshot of an entire system that espouses profit at the expense of workers’ rights and welfare,” Palabay added.

The rights group underscored that multinational beverage Coca-Cola Company, through loopholes in Philippine labor laws, has continuously hired contractual workers through agencies or subcontracting companies. This has allowed them to inhibit the regularization of workers and deny the provision of benefits, despite workers’ years of service. Contractualization in many companies has been the primary tool in exploiting workers, and government has rendered itself inutile, or directly on board, in the face of such blatant economic abuses. 

“This is not only Coca-Cola Company’s record in Davao, but also in Laguna in Southern Tagalog. Back in 2013, contractual workers were regularized after workers staged a three-day strike. However, early this year, workers in Coca-Cola’s Laguna plant and elsewhere are feared to be facing another round of mass lay-offs after the company announced a “restructuring” of their operations. Furthermore, through the disregard of labor laws, the company has refused to provide a living wage for their workers,” explained Palabay, adding that the laying off of employees was also due to the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN). 

Duterte won based on a highly populist platform, vocally challenging contractualization as among the prevalent practices that have long exploited workers. The president once promised to end contractualization, but instead implemented an order, through the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), which further legalized the said practice. Palabay added that “DOLE excused itself by stating that the prohibition of all forms of contractualization is beyond their powers, and that they can only regulate the practice of contracting and subcontracting. Once again, amid outright violations on workers’ rights, we are brandished with excuses.” 

“We demand the immediate release of the 10 KIMACO members and reinstatement of all the workers who were laid-off. We likewise condemn the Davao local government and Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines for using trumped-up charges to harass and intimidate the workers, instead of addressing their very real and legitimate demands. Indeed, this system will either kill you with a bullet or with the gradual pangs of poverty and exploitation. Either way, it will kill – blatantly, shamelessly, and with brazen impunity,” Palabay concluded.