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Worker Organizing pt 2 – MUSTAD workers on the picket line

July 21, 2011

The workers outside of the Mustad factory have been on the picket line since late May, 2011. They set up the picket line the day after the company supposedly illegally closed its gates on the workers.

The workers are primarily women in their 30s to 50s. Many had worked at the plant for over 20 years. They had built up a strong union affiliated with Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and had won many rights for their workers.

The closure of the plant will have a particularly devastating impact on these workers, as not only is there an extremely high unemployment rate, most companies do not higher people older than 25 years of age.

The workers are determined to challenge the company’s decision to close the factory and they have stayed on the picket line for over a month now.

The workers used to hand knit the nylon bait to the fishing hooks for Mustad’s “best selling [fishing] hook brand on the planet.” Mustad is a Norwegian company with sale centres in 160 countries.

When the workers approached Mustad about the closure, Mustad claimed they could no longer keep the plant open because of the losses at the factory and provided the workers with a financial statement showing their losses.

But the workers remained skeptical, and for good reason.

First off, the workers say that the company continued to receive production orders.

The workers also question the financial statements provided by the company, as the workers say that many companies operating in the Philippines are notorious for fixing the books.

And then there is Krexim, a company that is supposedly in competition with Mustad.

However, one look at the Mustad compound would have you question that story. Both the Mustad and the Krexim factories are within the same compound, behind gates with the letters “M””U””S””T””A””D” written on them.

In addition to fixing the books, companies also change their names quite often. The original factory operated under the name of Krexim, and was later changed to Mustad, and now we have/had Mustad and Krexim as two separate companies.

Why all the name changes?

The name changes are ways of using changes in the Filipino laws to further extract profits. At one point companies had a 5 year grace period before they would be required to pay taxes. All you had to do was change your name and then you had another 5 years without taxes.

Currently, a new law (or loop hole) has made it easier to contractualize the workforce.

Here comes Krexim with a new organizational design to maximize profits. Krexim has 20 sub-contractors who in total hire 300 workers. These workers work from their home.

At home, the work conditions are more hazardous, not only for the worker but also their family. Remember, these workers are producing fishing lures. Each Mustad worker had numerous stories of puncture wounds from the lures, but at least they had won the right to have a health worker on staff. The workers at Krexim and their children have no access to health and safety services.

The pay is worse. Workers at Mustad were getting paid 464 php a day ($10). While its still hard to live on 464 php, its much harder to live on 80-120 php the workers at Krexim make. They get paid for piece work; 1 peso per finished product.

There has been a significant decline in unionization (and with it a decline in workers’ rights) alongside the increasing contractualization policies implemented by the government and corporations.

Unions like KMU and the workers on the Mustad picket line have been fighting for the rights of all Filipinos workers.

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