Message-ID: <>
Date: Fri, 4 Jun 1999 08:32:29 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Torvald Patterson <torvald@QUEERNET.ORG>
Subject: Philippines/stike alert/Shemberg

Date: Fri, 4 Jun 1999 02:54:28 -0400
From: International Viewpoint <>
Subject: Philippines/stike alert/Shemberg
To: Listserve English <>

Strikers at a leading chemical plant have called for international solidarity with their struggle against union-busting

By Mark Johnson, International Viewpoint, 4 June 1999

The independent union at Shemberg Marketing Corporation is one of the most radical labour groups on the central Philippine island of Cebu. Their employer is Asia's largest producer of carrageenan, a seaweed extract widely used as a thickening, gelling and stabilising agent in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

The union-busting started in September 1998, when the company encouraged some workers to oppose the union, and then to resign. In exchange, these workers were allocated to new jobs inside the (anti-union) Mactan Export Processing Zone.

The union invoked its legal right to force termination of the contracts of these disloyal workers, and began a slowdown strike in protest at this unionbusting strategy. Management refused, and fired all fifteen union officers.

According to union leaders, Effective legal strike is almost impossible. Philippine labour law obliges the strikers to allow free entry to the plant, even to scab labour. Like most other strikers, the Shemberg workers have been forced into extra-legal activities.

They occupied one of the plant's two water pumps until 30 May, costing the company about P500,000 per week. The firm has stopped all production for the domestic market, to save water for the dollar-earning divisions, notably the carrageenan refinery.

The company has reduced its credit terms from 60-90 days to one week, in a desperate struggle against the effects of the strike. Marketing comptroller Cris Mercado Jr, makes the (unconvincing) claim that the fundamental problem is a collapse in demand for carrageenan in Asia and Latin America.

In reality, an obstinate management has brought the company to its knees, rather than accept the existence of a real trade union. It took management five years to recognise the independent union, which was established in 1990 by workers frustrated with the yellow ALU union.

The dispute is about union rights, rather than salary. Workers earn the industrial average of 190 pesos/day (after tax about 130 pesos/$3.50)

The strikers initially camped outside the compound gates, but were driven away by armed security guards, a court injunction, and the foul smell of the waste from the plant.

The French multinational RhF4ne Poulenc is considering buying the company outright, for about US$20m. But Shemberg's owners, the Benson Dakay family, are desperately trying to find a speculative investor who would allow them to maintain a 20% stake. Interested parties are thought to include Newbridge Capital (USA), Lombard APIC (Hong Kong) and China Development and Industrial Bank (Hong Kong).

Shemberg is virtually bankrupt, owing US$25m. to a consortium of 15 banks.

3rd Floor, F.Lao Lim Building, Highway Maguikay, Mandaue City, Cebu Province, Philippines, fax 032-3441933, email < Financial donations can be sent to Shemberg Employees Independent Union (SEIU), Bank account #0157-21509-1, Far East Bank and Trust, Hi-Way Branch, Mandaue City, Cebu

Province, Philippines, or to Shemberg Employees Independent Trust Fund, account #3-23692296-5, Metro Bank, North Road Basak, Mandaue City, Cebu Province, Philippines.