As of the time of this writing, there are many conflicting narratives about the forceful dispersal of strikers between the management, picketing workers, the Pasig city mayor, Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), and other stakeholders of Regents Food Corporation (RFC)l, a snack food manufacturer which started as a single proprietor in 1946 named Royal Foods. In 1988, it expanded the business on a one-hectare lot facility in the same city.
According to the strikers, they were peacefully picketing the factory to demand better working condition and fair wages. RFC claims the striking workers blocked the ingress of the non-striking employees and issued grave threats, armed with blades and sharp weapons. RFC further claims that it wrote the city mayor’s office asking police assistance to prevent any untoward incident as the situation was becoming tense. But its letter was ignored. RFC then hired a private security agency to keep order who employed physical force to disperse the blockade when the strikers attacked them with sharp weapons. The Philippine National Police arrested 23 persons (20 RFC workers, two outside labor group sympathizers, and a tricycle driver) and the private security agency filed a criminal complaint against the arrested workers. A labor movement group joined the fray by accusing RFC of runaway shop, lockout, union busting, decades-long contractualization, low wages, unpaid benefits, illegal dismissal, unfair labor practices and violation of workers right to strike.
The RFC labor dispute is reportedly filed in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and is under conciliation process when the strike took place. At the time of filing, DoLE has not assumed jurisdiction because there were only 10 out of 500 workers to the RFC labor union who filed the case.
The Pasig city mayor paid the bail for some of the arrested persons and warned RFC to drop the charges since the strikers are not criminals but merely fighting for their rights. In his Facebook postings, the mayor warns RFC thusly, “To the management of RFC, these people are not criminals; they do not have the goal of hurting you. They are fighting for what they believe is just. I condemn the misuse of your privileged position to suppress the right of your protesting workers. If you want to have a healthy relationship with the city, i highly suggest you rethink your position.”
RFC, in a show of hurt responded that it cannot order the complainant, the private security agency, since it respects the justice system and if the mayor vilifies RFC as an evil employer it plans to transfer its business elsewhere and cut off its more than three decades residency in Pasig.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) cautions the Pasig city mayor not to take sides in labor disputes as they fall under the jurisdiction of DoLE.
From various reports there are learnings from this case.
First, the 20 striking workers should have waited for the outcome of the conciliation process under NLRC before walking out of their jobs and desist from allegedly blocking the entry of 500 non-striking co-workers. Sharp weapons must never be carried during strikes.
Second, RFC should have a more proactive grievance mechanism to address the purported grievances of these workers and be more circumspect before issuing the knee-jerk reaction of threatening to get out of Pasig, its corporate home for more than three decades.
Third, NLRC must act swiftly on all labor disputes referred to it before impatience sets in.
Fourth, kudos to the DILG for reminding the city mayor to be neutral in labor disputes because it is outside his jurisdiction.
Finally, the city mayor being the father of the city, must avoid playing to the gallery and taking sides. He must resist the urge to portray himself a Robin Hood, the champion of the downtrodden. His critics might accuse him of campaigning too early for reelection in 2022, which is still two years away.
The impulsive act of the mayor may have been driven by a genuine concern for the working class, but it has a chilling effect on all business owners in his city, which could cause capital flight out of Pasig and also scare away potential investors planning to locate in his city.
This sordid affair did not have to happen if only due process has been observed by various stakeholders most notably the city government in addressing the issues at hand.