The Multinational Monitor



Nestle Is Declared "Vital" by Marcos In Attempt to Break Strike

A Filippino worker gets $4 a day - a Japanese worker gets $50

by Philip Brooks

Manila - Nestle's Swiss manager and his team sat on one side of the table; workers from Filipro, Nestle's Philippine subsidiary, sat on the other, their file folders open and their faces firm.

Nearly two months into a strike, the Nestle factory workers were not hopeful about a breakthrough in negotiations with the Swiss company.

This day, February 25, a deadline has been set for midnight. It will pass without agreement, and negotiations will break off.

Nestle, the focus of international controversy over its marketing of infant formula, has run into an additional problem with the production of the baby food in the Philippines: labor militancy.

Two recent strikes have closed down Nestle's Philippine operations. At the Alambang and Cubayao infant formula factories along the South Highway in one of . the dormitory suburbs ringing the Philippine capital, 900 workers have been on strike since January 1. The dispute centers on the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

In Makati, the plush business district of Manila where Filipro has its administrative offices, workers and technical staff have been on strike since January 5 to reinstall and obtain retroactive payment of a Christmas bonus the company ceased delivering in 1975.

Relations between the two groups of striking workers are close, with moves afoot for the office employees to join the factory workers' union.

Filipro, 51% -owned by Nestle, made profits of 94 million pesos ($12.5 million) in 1979, 123 million pesos ($16.4 million) in 1980, and an estimated 200 million pesos ($26.7 million) for 1981.

The Christmas bonus asked for by the Makati office employees would cost the company about 1.25 million pesos ($167,000) for the years 1975-1981 as against a total profit of 536 million pesos ($70 million) over this period - a mere 0.2% of total profit.

On the Makati picket lines, the workers have set up a little stall and sell soft drinks and snacks to passersby to augment the strike fund.

"At 10,000 pesos ($1250) a day, this strike has nearly cost them more than our demands," says Manny Sormiento, the president of the Makati Office Workers union.

Union leaflets claim that the factory employees and white collar workers contribute 150,000 pesos ' ($17,500) each to annual company profits.

The workers don't get much in return.

At present the lowest wage in the factories at Alambang and Cubayao is 22 pesos ($2.70) a day; the average is around 30 pesos ($3.50) a day, or about 9,000 pesos a year.

The workers in the factories are demanding, along with a host of other benefits, a 40 peso ($4.70) per day wage increase. Such a big raise is justified "because the company is so profitable," says Ruffino Lizzardo, the union's lawyer.

Nestle's Philippine operation is the most successful of the Swiss company's southeast Asian enterprises, says Lizzardo, but workers in the Philippines are the lowest paid of all Nestle's Asian employees. Where an Australian or Japanese worker for Nestle will receive $50 a day, Lizzardo claims, a Filipino worker will get less than $4 a day.

In addition to better wages and benefits, the Filipro factory workers have asked for 10% of the company's net profits. "In the Philippines, the government has a principle that labor and capital are partners in industry," says Lizzardo with a glint in his eye. "Well, if this is so, then it is only proper that a laborer gets a share of the profits."

Unfortunately for the workers, the government of Ferdinand Marcos does not share this interpretation of labor relations (MM, February 1981). In mid-February, Philippine Labor Minister Blase Oples ruled the strike illegal, declaring Filipro a company "vital to the national interest." The Marcos government, in spite of the "lifting" of eight years of martial law in January, 1981, outlaws strikes in companies so designated.

"The decision of the Ministry of Labor to declare Nestle `vital to the national interest' gave the company a further excuse not to negotiate," says Lizzardo, vowing that the union "will appeal to the Supreme Court for grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Ministry."

The ruling has not dulled the workers' resolve. "We will not go back even if the military is brought in," says Rene Medina, the young union leader who heads the workers' negotiating team.

At press time in mid-March, the strike was still unsettled.

Breast-feeding versus Nestle

Their strikes have led to some discussion among Filipro workers on the effects of infant milk formulas on babies.

The percentage of women in the Philippines who never breastfeed their babies is higher than in nine other countries in a recent World Health Organization survey, including advanced countries like Sweden. 39% of mothers living in comparatively well-off urban areas in the Philippines are not breastfeeding their babies one month after delivery. For the children of factory workers, bottle feeding can be a matter of life and death as the water used may be impure and the cost of infant formula may lead mothers to dilute the formula excessively.

In 1980 the Ministry of Health reported that the national morbidity rate caused by malnourishment in creased 35.3% above the average for 1975-79.

Quoted in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Professor Virginia Guzman, of the Institute of Public Health at the University of the Philippines, attributes at least 70% of malnourishment in the Philippines to bottle feeding.

On the picket line, women nutritionists from Filipro told Multinational Monitor that their job was to promote Nestle products to Filipino doctors.

The Pediatric Society of the Philippines and other public health institutes would like the World Health Organization's code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes to be strictly applied (see MM, April 1981). At present companies like Filipro disobey the code by giving lectures in hospitals and handing out free samples of their product to doctors, nurses and mothers.

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