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“The Bananas Have the Blood of the Workers!”

SNA (Tokyo) — The company Sumifru, affiliated with Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, has found itself in hot water over its alleged human rights violations against banana plantation workers in the Philippines. Sumifru, which supplies Japan with about a third of its banana imports, has reportedly failed to provide its workers with regular employment. The Sumifru workers are calling for employment benefits which they say they have unjustly been denied.

On October 1, 2018, the Sumifru workers that belong to the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm Labor Union (Namasufa) participated in an eleven-day peaceful protest in Mindanao. This protest was disrupted by police and, according to Namasufa, gunshots were heard in the commotion.

Namasufa was unionizing to attain regular employment for workers at Sumifru. This recognition would include workers rights such as maternity leave, sick leave, a living wage, and additional medical care against the harmful chemicals used in the plantation.

According to Paul John Dizon, the president of Namasufa, speaking at a press conference in Tokyo last week, these requests were met with a direct dismissal from the company. Seven months on, both himself and Jamila Seno, a member of the union’s board, have been unemployed while they continue their campaign for justice.

Namasufa has called for the Japanese people to boycott the purchase of Sumifru bananas. In Dizon words, “the bananas have the blood of the workers!”

The seven-month fight in Manila for the rights of the laborers has largely been ignored by the Philippine media, and so Namasufa has asked that Japan take action to raise awareness about the injustices occurring in Mindanao.

According to Dizon, unionism is often presented as if it is terrorism in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the actions taken by Namasufa are entirely legal under the terms of Article 106 of the Philippine Labor Code, which states: “Contracting or subcontracting, when undertaken to circumvent the worker’s right to security of tenure, self-organization and collective bargaining, and peaceful concerted activities pursuant to the 1987 Philippine Constitution, is hereby strictly prohibited.”

In spite of this prohibition aimed at company management, workers’ collective bargaining rights are routinely violated.

Dizon and Seno also highlight the unsafe working environment at Sumifru. Seno says that the chemicals used to maintain the appetizing appearance of the bananas are harmful, and that female workers in the final stages of their pregnancies can suffer ill effects. Seno tearfully told reporters in Tokyo, “the company is taking better care of the bananas than us workers.”

The issue of so-called “contractualization” impacts the Sumifru workers. Contractualization is a term used in the Philippines to describe a form of temporary employment in which workers are denied the benefits of employment insurance, health insurance, and a living wage. Although this practice is common in the country, it is not legal if applied to an ongoing employment situation.

Seno noted that most of the workers at the plantation had been working there for three to nineteen years and yet are still regarded as irregular employees.

The Philippine Statistics Authority estimated in 2016 that 41.6% of Filipino workers are not paid a living wage. When workers are pregnant, injured, or sick, they still work long hours as there is a lack of protection to ensure payment if they are not officially contracted by the companies they work for.

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