Lockdown shutters 700 Luzon factories
SAN PEDRO CITY—Uncertainty is hanging over the heads of tens of thousands of minimum wage workers in hundreds of factories producing car parts, electronics, and other industrial and consumer goods in Luzon, which have suspended operations due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Charito Plaza, director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza), said on Friday that this was the first time that such massive closures triggered by “a very serious global crisis” have hit the Philippines’ import-export sector.
As of Friday afternoon, 703 companies have suspended operations, according to Peza.
In Cavite alone, 309 companies had temporarily shut down, affecting 86,549 workers, Plaza said.
There are 379 ecozones across Luzon. Plaza did not say how many Luzon workers in total were affected.
Cavite, Batangas situation
Cavite has 15 economic zones, 11 of which manufacture car parts, textile, garments, prefabricated houses, electronics and food. Rosario town hosts the largest ecozone in the province.
Some of the companies have provided financial assistance to their workers but others sent their employees on forced leaves without pay.
Lorie Castanas, an employee of Japanese-owned car accessory maker EMI-Yazaki Corp. in Imus City, Cavite, said only about 20 employees were asked to report back to work on Friday. She and the rest were furloughed, she said.
In Cavite, entire industrial zones were shuttered, leaving only a handful of “essential” personnel to push remaining deliveries plus a few security guards.
Since the suspension of public transportation, Cavite workers had to walk an average of two hours to factories that produced garments, textile, electronic parts, tobacco products and prefabricated houses.
On Thursday evening, Peza issued a memorandum shutting down the economic zones in Tanza, Gen. Trias City, and Rosario, all in Cavite.
In Batangas, the city government of Sto. Tomas will start preventing company shuttles from gong in and out of industrial parks on Saturday as a tighter measure to “restrict people’s movement.”
City information officer Gerry Laresma said companies could still operate as long as they provided temporary housing for their workers.
In a phone interview, Plaza said Peza met with Cavite government officials and the locators, whose operations had been hampered by the health quarantines or had found it too expensive to provide temporary employee housing.
Plaza said she had learned of at least three workers with “strong symptoms” of the coronavirus. She gave no other details.
Gennie Isidro, a 46-year-old mother who works at Korean Daegyoung Apparel Inc. In Rosario, said employees were told to take “a vacation” next week and wait for instructions. But they won’t get paid for the days they did not work.
Her son works at the Japanese-owned House Technologies Industries in Gen. Trias City. He, too, is on unpaid leave.
Payment in advance
Plaza said some of the big companies have offered their workers a month’s pay in advance.
Joseph Gacosta, Cavite provincial director of the Department of Labor and Employment, said some of the factories have advanced the P5,000 assistance promised by the government to displaced workers, which the companies will later reimburse.
Cavite Gov. Juanito Victor Remulla said among the companies that went into a “voluntary production shutdown” was Wu Kong Singapore with about 18,000 employees. The company manufactures wood building products.
“What I fear is that if this (situation) lingers, they (companies) might decide to transfer their production quota to their other branches in other countries just to avoid delays (in deliveries),” Plaza said.
If that happens, they might “ultimately transfer” their entire factory out of the country, she said.
Cement makers, too
Also on Friday, the country’s three largest cement manufacturers temporarily shut down their factories in Luzon, including their distribution operations.
They cited the need to protect the health and safety of their workers, customers and the communities where they are located from the novel coronavirus, which causes the acute respiratory disease COVID-19.
The largest producer, Holcim Philippines, suspended work at its factories in Bacnotan in La Union province and in Norzagaray, Bulacan.
Its terminals in Calaca and Mabini, Batangas, and in Manila as well as its dry mix factory in Paranaque City have also stopped dispatching products, the company disclosed to the Philippine Stock Exchange (SEC) on Friday.
The cement plants of Holcim in La Union, Bulacan and Davao have a combined annual production capacity of 10 million metric tons.
The company said its plants and terminals in Visayas and Mindanao would continue operating.
Cemex Holdings Philippines, also told the SEC that it had shut down its Solid Cement plant in Antipolo City and suspended deliveries.
But it said its APO Cement plant in Naga, Cebu, would continue operating.
Cemex had the capacity to produce 5.7 million tons in 2018. Its Solid Cement plant alone has an annual capacity of 1.9 million metric tons.
Another cement maker, Republic Cement, also announced the suspension of factory operations and dispatch from Luzon, but its plants in Visayas and Mindanao will continue to run.
Holcim said it implemented a work-from-home arrangements for employees in its Taguig head office and others in Luzon.
Republic said the company was “one with the nation in the fight against COVID-19 and we look forward to bouncing back as a safer and stronger republic.” WITH A REPORT FROM DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA
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