Labor Sec. Baldoz: We’ll fix problem on sugar workers’ bonus

MALAYBALAY CITY  (Bukidnon News/19 August) Labor Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz acknowledged the problem of distribution of the amelioration bonus for sugar cane farmers in Bukidnon and tasked another labor official to fix it.

Baldoz tasked Labor undersecretary Lourdes Trasmonte Friday to find ways to address the problem of distributing the multi-million social amelioration bonus in a recent visit in southern Bukidnon.

The labor secretary, in town for the formalization of anti-child labor interventions in Bukidnon, said the problem has persisted as shown in the return of millions of funds to Manila.

The funds were downloaded to the sugar planters associations but their executives cited difficulty in releasing to the itinerant farm workers.

Among the problems, however, is that some planters’ associations allegedly are not keen on distributing the fund. One group allegedly mismanaged the fund, she said.

Baldoz cited that the department has sued a planters’ association in southern Bukidnon related to the issue.

In December 2010, 150 workers belonging to the Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Bukidnon (KASAMA) and Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (OGYON) asked the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) during a protest rally in front the provincial capitol in Malaybalay City about their social amelioration bonus.

The farm workers have sought the intervention of the provincial government on their plight, including the underpayment of the minimum wage rate and the non-compliance of work benefits and other issuers.

The bonus due to sugarcane farmers was coursed through the planters instead of the farm workers in Bukidnon, then DOLE-Bukidnon director Saturnino Escobido Escobido admitted in a meeting with the farmers’ groups and an irate Bukidnon Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr.

The farmers demanded that the bonus should be coursed directly to the farmers’ groups, not the planters.

Under the Sugar Amelioration Act of 1991 or Republic Act 6982, the DOLE shall set aside 10 liens, which is equivalent to P10, in every LKG (50 kilos) of sugar produced.

This will go to the Social Amelioration Fund (SAF), of which 80 percent should go to Social Amelioration Bonus while the remaining 20 percent goes to an economic project for the farm workers, maternity and death benefits and administrative support.

The farmers’ groups asserted that most of the sugar workers, especially the seasonal and pakyaw-based workers, do not know the social amelioration and its benefits.

Back then Escovido vowed to do something to grant the groups’ demand for direct distribution to the farmers, and thus doing away with coursing the money through the planters as conduit.

The fight of Bukidnon farm workers is not the first in the country. The National Federation of Sugar Workers has demanded since 2006 that the government should release the unclaimed Social Amelioration Fund to the farm workers, and to the unions and workers’ associations. As of that year, unclaimed SAF already reached P150 million.

Baldoz also signed a memorandum of understanding with Democito G. Oppus of the Busco Sugar Milling Co. Inc. (BUSCO) for the Kapatiran program, one of the strategies to curb child labor in the province.

She also witnessed the signing of the memorandum of agreement for the Child Labor Monitoring System with the barangay local governments of Butong, San Jose, Merangeran, Salawagan and Poblacion. The agreement was also signed by DoLE and the District Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (DTC).

Baldoz also officiated the turnover of a check for the DoLE starter kit project for child labor parents and distributed school supplies to child labor beneficiaries.

In the same event, the Mountain View College also distributed scholarship certificates to child labor beneficiaries in Valencia City.

The anti-child labor projects are part of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor of the International Labor Organization with local partners in Bukidnon. (Walter Balane with Anecito “Dodo” Romano in Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon/Bukidnon News)