Last Christmas, the story of Mindanao sacadas – lowly cane cutters recruited to work in the controversial Hacienda Luisita sugar estate – first surfaced. Around a thousand sacadas were brought from Mindanao to a cramped bunkhouse in Tarlac to work during the kabyaw or annual sugar harvest and milling season which starts in November.
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), whose local affiliate OGYON based in Bukidnon province was instrumental in the initial rescue of around 50 sacadas, say that “the usual suspects” are behind this despicable practice of modern slavery.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos says that the recruitment of sacadas ensures the continued production and profitability of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family. The Lorenzos are also currently embroiled in land disputes with farmworkers in banana plantations under Lapanday Foods Corporation in Mindanao.
“The hiring of sacadas – called ‘migratory sugar workers’ by government – has been a long undisturbed practice by landlords and sugar barons during sugarcane harvest. It is one of the worst forms of contractualization, where workers are hired en masse to work in deplorable conditions and then paid slave-like wages through a group rate or ‘pakyaw’ wage system,” said Ramos
The sacadas have become victims of a giant human trafficking scam – promised by their recruiters a “Tarlac package” consisting of a daily wage of P450 plus benefits, including free meals and provisions or board and lodging, and travel to and from Hacienda Luisita. They were also promised P7,000 cash advance in three tranches.
Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, a Mindanao-based hiring agency disguised as a ‘labor cooperative,’ is responsible for transporting the sacadas to Hacienda Luisita. Agency-hiring in industries and services is among the most notorious practices perpetuating contractualization, or the ‘end of contract’ or ENDO scheme.
The sacadas received as low as P38.27 a week or a measly P5.47 a day to a high of P898.20 a week or P128.31 a day – due to numerous deductions. One initial payroll revealed that the workers received only P9.50 a day, the same pittance that Luisita farmworkers received more than a decade ago in 2004, when thousands of workers rose up to strike against the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
The Cojuangco-Aquinos of Luisita and their new business partners, the Lorenzos of Lapanday, seem to be on a roll – non-stop and hell-bent in trampling upon the rights of peasants and agricultural workers from Tagum to Bukidnon to Tarlac.
UMA says that government has not done enough to end the reign of these oligarchs. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in issuing Department Order 174, permits contractualization to continue unhampered.
“With its unfulfilled promises, government practically allows the Cojuangcos and Lorenzos to sign sakadas as slaves,” said Ramos.
“The sakadas were subjected to worst forms of exploitation and contractualization in Hacienda Luisita. The new DOLE DO 174 does nothing to end contractualization. Instead, it glosses over liabilities of despicable contractors like Greenhand and exploiters like the Cojuangcos and Lorenzos,” said Ramos.
“Sacadas and other workers have suffered enough from contractualization and the seasonal nature of farm labor, especially since our agricultural produce like sugarcane and fresh fruit exist because of interests of imperialists and multinational giants,” added Ramos.
Aside from UMA-member unions and organizations, Kilos Na Manggagawa, an organization of workers against contractualization, is currently gaining ground among plantation workers. Today is a national day of action against ENDO led by Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Kilos Na Manggagawa chapters around Metro Manila.
“The contractual or seasonal nature of our work is not holding back thousands of agricultural workers from forming unions and associations, and from pouring out into the streets on May 1, Labor Day to demand the end of contractualization and other neoliberal attacks against labor,” ended Ramos. #