Archives | Cordillera | Publications | International Work | Campaigns | Elders Work |Galleries | About Us | Home


June 16, 2005

back to top back to top

A call to support the striking workers of Lepanto Mines

The 1,685-strong Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) went on strike on June 2 versus company management as a result of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) deadlock on April 2. The said CBA will cover years 2004 to 2007.

The first bout of negotiations took place on February 18, 2005, where the union proposed P100-P100-P100 for the general wage increase. Here, the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company or Lepanto proposed only P0-P10-P11 for the first, second and third years, respectively. The union’s CBA proposal also identifies that several be benefits be granted, including separation pay, sick leave, and housing allowance. The union has already lowered its wage demands to P29-P29-P33, still management won’t budge.

On May 10, Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas issued an Assumption of Jurisdiction against the striking workers. This was, of course, upon petition of company management. The Labor Code provides that striking workers are compelled to return to work upon the issuance of the AJ. The pursuance of any strike, despite the order, makes it illegal and paves the way for the termination of union officers.

Clearly, this is a violation of the constitutional right to strike or even freedom of expression. The workers, however, were not discouraged. They continue to man the five picketlines, even with the threat of dispersal due to the return to work order issued on June 9 by DoLE Usec. Manuel Imson.
Since the AJ was issued, elements of the 54th Infantry Battalion were deployed to Lepanto, including integrees from the paramilitary group Cordillera Peoples’ Liberation Army (CPLA) and the Civilian Armed Geographic Unit (CAFGU).
Management has also issued termination notices to union officials.

The greed that gold built

Lepanto is one of the biggest gold producer in the country and one of the leading gold producers in Asia. Its mining operations now encompass 4,621 hectares of Mankayan land. This expanse of land covers Lepanto’s 297 mining claims, covering the villages of Paco, Sapid, Poblacion, Colalo, Cabiten, Bulalacao, Tabeo and Suyoc. Lepanto also has two timber/logging concessions in Benguet province and Ilocos region, which operates over 6,320 hectares. Their concessions were temporarily halted due to the government’s total log ban campaign.

Lepanto is also the country’s leading exporter of copper and silver. The discovery of the Far Southeast Gold Ore Body in 1980 and the Victoria Gold Ore Body boosted its gold production in 1995. Mineral extraction at the Victoria and Teresa ore bodies is nearing completion. The company contributions and payments when these are regularly deducted from their salaries. Thus, their salary loans are also denied. They cannot even loan from their cooperative since management has not been remitting the workers’ salary deductions that was supposed to cover those loans.

While workers’ lives are endangered, Lepanto has managed to sustain the luxurious lifestyle of its managers and BoD at the expense of the workers who make do with their meager wages. The company’s annual financial reports reveal that members of the BoD like Felipe U. Yap earned P18.3 million for the year 2004 with additional P1.5 million for his 13th month pay.
To think that the union’s CBA proposal only amount to P93,689,232, which is only 4.7% of the company’s retained earnings in 2004.

Checkpoints were also installed in gates and roads leading to the mine portals and communities. Black propaganda against militant groups supporting the union is also being circulated, while surveillance is also ongoing. For some time, water supply leading to the bunkhouses has been cut. Lepanto’s Resident Manager Augusto Villaluna has made a derogatory statement against the Igorot workers. (“Mga unggoy at patay gutom ang mga Igorot na mga iyan”)

Matter of life and limb
The mineworkers are exposed to dust, smoke, falling rocks and boulders, intense vibrations and loud blasts. There were numerous reported fatal accidents among the mineworkers especially those in the underground operations, manifesting unsafe mining practices in Lepanto.

They work for 8 hours according to their calendared shift. (There are 3 shifts in the workplace: 1st shift from 11 PM TO 7 AM; 2nd shift from 7 AM to 3 PM, and 3rd shift from 3 PM to 11 PM). They have staggered rest days every week.

A worker’s daily pay is P340. In monetary terms, the benefits per worker amount to P260, which is why the company reports the daily wage at P610/day. Then again, the benefits, like allowances and rubber boots, are not given daily but once a month or a year only. The National Coordinating Board and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) report that in the Cordillera region, a family of 6 needs at least P573 to survive daily. How could decent survival possibly be in this exploitative state of affairs? The value of the peso continues to slide, with only 53 centavos being the real worth of a peso, according to the research group IBON databank foundation.

United and determined
Despite the harassment and dissuasion, the workers still stand on their ground. With grim determination to finish what they started, the union members are always on the courageous defense and militant offense in staging the strike to fight for their democratic rights. They have proven that from their unity in their February 2003 strike which they maintained for a month that they can gain significant achievements. Now, they are doing it again to push for a justified and reasonable CBA.
Now, your support to their struggle will truly increase their will and boost to their morale. Financial assistance from you/your organization, aside from the physical and moral help which is already abound and is still very welcome, would be very much appreciated. In the early days of the strike, the workers sustained the picket lines by relying on themselves. But their food supplies and finances cannot last as they were as days go by. Your help will support them in many ways.

For inquiries, please call (O74) 443-8104

Please send your donations to:
Cordillera Labor Center
111 Agpaoa Bldg.
Upper Gen. Luna Rd, Baguio City


Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
Copyright © 2004 website content by Cordillera Peoples Alliance,
Copyright © 2004 website design by Borky Perida