Baguio Country Club staves off strike; Lepanto retrenches 400
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines–A venerable institution in Baguio City staved off what could have been the first labor crisis in the Cordillera region.
The Baguio Country Club and its employees union have signed a new collective bargaining agreement, after almost six months of heated negotiations that led the club management to install armed security guards with anti-riot shields outside the club gates during the Holy Week.
Dubbed the “Paradise of the Cordilleras”, the Baguio Country Club boasts more than a century-old treasure trove of colorful history intertwined with that of Baguio City and the Philippines.
Anthony de Leon, the club’s general manager, and Ronald Rivera, president of the Baguio Country Club Employees League (BCCEL), on Wednesday signed the CBA that grants workers a monthly pay hike of P600 retroactive to July 1, 2010; a new monthly salary hike of P400 on July 1 this year; and a third monthly wage hike of P100 on July 1, 2012.
The strike notice filed by the BCCEL was considered the only major labor dispute recorded in the region since January by the Department of Labor and Employment.
But labor officials are monitoring reports that a major mining firm is terminating more than 400 workers this month to concentrate on the redevelopment of its gold and copper mine project.
The Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corp. is implementing a top-to-bottom retrenchment of 435 employees, who are close to the retirement age, while the firm begins improving its underground operations for six months, said Knestor Godino, manager of the Lepanto mining division’s administrative service office.
The tunnels need to be improved to increase operational efficiency, he said.
The retrenchment will take effect on June 3, but Lepanto began paying its terminated employees their separation benefits on May 5 until May 7, he said.
Despite the retrenchments, the company will still operate with 900 employees, he said.
The Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) and the Lepanto Security Force Employees Union have protested the latest retrenchments, arguing that they were undertaken in the middle of CBA negotiations.
The unions filed a strike notice in 2010 over unpaid wages amounting to P254 million, but the employees backed down to allow the CBA negotiations to proceed, according to labor department officials.
The last Lepanto CBA expired in November 2010.
In a statement, the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) described the retrenchment “as bargaining in bad faith as it is done in the midst of the negotiation for a new collective bargaining agreement… [and] clearly shows how the management disregards its corporate social responsibility.”
The KMU also said that “the whole membership of the Security Force Union [would be] wiped out [by] this retrenchment.”
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau has not been informed officially about Lepanto’s plans. However, government engineers were advised that Lepanto would discontinue production from its underground tunnels to allow its experts to expand operations there, according to an MGB official.
The official sought anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal details about the Lepanto development plan.
Lepanto’s Godino said the company “is not shutting down operations” despite the temporary closure of its underground tunnels.
The source confirmed this. “The company has decided to improve its tunnels so it will stop work there for the meantime, so they can tunnel down to new reserves and improve the older tunnels. They operated while they explored the tunnels, so eventually they would have to stop and improve the tunnels for security and for efficiency,” he said.
The mines bureau source said Lepanto was taking this risk because of high metals prices in the world market.
“They calculated that the prices are high enough so the company can start processing broken rocks containing gold and copper of marginal grade, which were stored for years in a waste area. Before prices went up, processing these marginal-grade rocks would not be profitable,” the source said.
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