The embattled workers of Alta Mode Inc., a garments factory in the Mactan Economic Zone (MEZ) II and subcontractor for global brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, are appealing for support and solidarity from fellow workers, the broad public and even concerned candidates running in the elections.
Since February 15, 2010, they have protested outside the main gates of the MEZ II, one of the biggest export zones in the Philippines, after they were refused entry and not allowed to go to work. The following day, they set up camp at the MEZ gates in order to oblige the Alta Mode management to dialogue with the union. But the very next day, security guards of Acoland, lessor of the MEZ II, tried unsuccessfully to force them out of the export zone that is built on privately-owned land.
AMWU is demanding that they return to work and for management to establish to the workers the alleged financial losses of the company. The workers though have proof through Alta Mode’s own financial statements for years 2007 to 2008 that management’s claims of monetary losses are lies. AMWU accuses the company of closing the factory in order to bust the union.
This is the reason management adamantly refuses to hold a dialogue with the workers about the supposed losses. All the workers have received was a written notice about the closure. Since the picket line was set up, no one from Alta Mode management has faced the workers. Management even boycotted the mediation hearings called by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
The fight of the Alta Mode workers is a struggle for job security and workers rights. Since labor unrest broke out at Alta Mode around a year ago, workers have struggled over illegal shutdowns, erratic working days and inhuman production quota.
After workers organized in order to protect their welfare, management has interfered in the exercise of the right to unionize with aim of defeating union certification. On the day of union certification elections in September of 2009, management put all union members on forced leave. The DOLE colluded with management by counting the votes of supervisory and contractual workers who are not part of the bargaining unit. No union has survived in the three decades-long history of the MEZ, indirect proof of the unwritten no union, no strike policy of export zones.
Alta Mode is just another graphic example of capitalists using the global recession as an excuse to demolish labor rights and undercut workers welfare. Since the start of the global crisis, workers unrest has erupted in MEZ over illegal closures, mass layoffs, reduced hours, wage cuts, standards violations and labor repression.
Furthermore the Alta Mode case highlights the issues of the implementation of constitutional guaranteed labor rights inside export zones and industrial estates. The right to assemble and the freedom of expression—not to speak of the right to strike—are effectively suppressed inside export zones and industrial estates since the right to private property takes precedence inside these gated complexes.
Finally Alta Mode illustrates the injustice for workers in the global supply chain of multinational corporations. The corporate social responsibility of global apparel brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch hides the ugly reality of sweatshop conditions founded on the cheap and docile labor of workers in countries such as the Philippines. Multinational corporations rake in the profits through layers of contracting and subcontracting schemes with their global suppliers while workers suffer in both North and South countries.
Renante Peliño Renato Magtubo
President National Chairperson
Alta Mode Workers Union Partido ng Manggagawa [Labor Party-Philippines]