Clock ticking

Mine firm in N. Vizcaya braces for workers’ strike

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 29, 2014)

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—An Australian company operating a gold-copper project in upland Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya province has alerted employees about an impending strike by members of a workers’ union over wages.

Brennan Lang, general manager of the Didipio project of OceanaGold Philippines Inc., said employees who are not members of the union would be asked to change their schedule or perform functions in anticipation of the vacuum that would be created by those who would join the picket line.

“All department heads have been tasked with developing contingency plans to maintain operations in the event of a strike,” he said in a memorandum circulated among workers last week.

The work stoppage at OceanaGold Didipio mine loomed after members of Pun-oh-ohaan Hi Kiphodan (Kiphodan) labor union, the only recognized workers’ group of the Didipio project, voted last week to proceed with the strike.

Image
In this 2013 file photo, mine workers at OceanaGold Philippines, Inc.’s gold-copper project in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya undergo routine security check before entering the mining site in Didipio village. The company is preparing for a possible strike that will be staged by the workers union as should final attempts at negotiations continue to fail. Photo By Melvin Gascon

Failed negotiations

The Jan. 20 balloting came more than a month after the union filed on Dec. 10 a notice of strike in the Department of Labor and Employment, following failed negotiations.

Lang said workers who do not report for work, regardless of whether they joined the strike, would not receive their wages.

The union has at least 80 members, mostly Didipio residents, out of the 350 workers of OceanaGold.

The impending strike is the latest problem to hit the Didipio mining project, which began commercial production in 2013 amid continuing opposition from the antimining community led by the Catholic Church in Nueva Vizcaya.

The dispute stemmed from disagreements between Kiphodan and OceanaGold over terms of the three-year collective bargaining agreement, mainly provisions on the workers’ compensation and other economic benefits.

P12 vs P32

In previous talks, union members demanded a P32 per day across-the-board wage increase, or about P1,000 a month, but OceanaGold offered an increase of only P12 a day, to go along with other forms of remuneration.

The offers, however, may no longer hold up for the remainder of prolonged negotiations, Lang said in a memo.
“In declaring a bargaining deadlock, the union has effectively rejected this offer and the company cannot guarantee that all or any of the above benefits will be part of any final agreement,” he said.

In a phone interview, Wendy Nicano, Kiphodan union president, said they rejected the company’s offer because it was too meager for today’s living standards.

“We studied [our numbers] carefully and concluded that we really cannot go below P1,000. If the company has reasons for the offer, we too have our own reasons [to reject it],” she said.

Cheaper gold

In his memo, Lang cited the financial distress that the company has been going through as the reason it cannot grant the union’s P1,000 demand in wage increase.

“The company has suffered from a 27-percent decrease in the price of gold over the past year. In order to reduce costs and remain profitable, the company has laid off 40 percent of our exploration department staff in the Philippines, and our New Zealand staff has accepted pay reductions,” he said.

Even OceanaGold’s corporate leaders in Melbourne in Australia have agreed to a 5-percent salary cut earlier this year, Lang said.#

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