By Supriya Prasad, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
In the above video, an union worker’s wife claims that a factory manager said to her, “You are ruined and starving! I would rather spend my money paying the judge and policemen than on you.” This demonstrates the struggles factory workers in the Philippines face – complicity between the government and factory management has denied these workers their right to fair pay.
Workers at Karnation Industries wanted to see a change and were fed up with being paid less than half of the legally mandated minimum wage. Therefore the workers decided it was time to send a strong message to the factory management. Workers went on strike in hopes for justice. However the strike ended in the arrest of 20 workers.
More than two years after going on strike, the “Karnation 20,” a group of striking union factory workers, are still fighting the Philippines slow judicial system and their former employer, Karnation Industries and Export Inc. The strikers have been awaiting justice in jail for far too long. What was their crime? According to factory management, the workers had padlocked the gate of the factory while protesting although the workers deny this. Karnation Industries also has provided a picture of what they claim are the protesters in front of the door; however, the men in the picture do not even resemble the workers on strike. This then triggered the arrest of 20 Karnation workers. Now, the workers who were initially protesting for their rights in the workplace have to defend themselves against the Philippines government…eventually.
The case has been pending for over two years now and was at a standstill until labor lawyer Remigio Saladero filed that the court holds a weekly hearing. However, the case was postponed again after Judge Ma. Teresa Cruz San Gabriel took a leave of absence. During this delay, the Karnation 20 were forced into a single prison room, so small that all of them could not sleep at the same time. Two of the workers, Melvic Lupe and Leo Paro, died in prison due to tuberculosis. What did these two men die fighting for?
The Karnation 20 were part of an union, the Congress Labor Organization, that aimed to establish minimum wage pay and basic benefits due to them from Karnation Industries. After the Karnation 20 unionized, they were told not to return to work in the factory, which produces home décor for companies such as Fred’s Inc. Therefore, the workers decided to go on strike, and they were wrongfully arrested without any preliminary investigation. Their arrests subsequently led to the deaths of Melvic Lupe and Leo Paro.Currently, fourteen have posted the excessively high bail while four still remain in prison at risk for diseases such as tuberculosis, beriberi, and malnutrition, and these four will remain in prison as Karnation Industries filed for a motion to deny bail. Essentially, Karnation Industries and the Philippines government are imprisoning the Karnation 20 without a speedy trial and without bail.
Karnation Industries and the Philippines government are demonstrating their unwillingness to work with unions or protect basic labor rights.To support the Karnation 20, you can send an appeal through the Asian Human Rights Commission.