By Harald Eraker
- When one of the girls who works here applied to the authorities to get social security benefits when she was taking a maternity leave, she was told that she was not entitled to this because Mustad did not pay the money they deduct from our salaries, nor the company's own share, says trade union president Rosita G. Calindas, who has been working for Mustad's subsidiary Mustad Terminal Tackle Philippines Inc. outside Manila for ten years.
She shows us the letter with the refusal from the authorities, and the pay slips which show that Mustad has deducted a certain amount of money from the workers' salary every week. This is money which the company should have paid to the Social Security System (SSS).
- We have no idea what the money has been used for. But it has certainly not been paid to the SSS, says the chairperson of the board of the trade union, Cristina Pablo, who has worked at the assembly line for 8 years, where fishhooks, spinners and flies of all sorts are handmade for sport fishermen in Europe and North America. The majority of the workers at the production lines at Mustad are younger women.
"When one of the girls who works here applied to the authorities to get social security benefits when she was taking a maternity leave, she was told that she was not entitled to this because Mustad did not pay the money they deduct from our salaries."
Trade union president Rosita G. Calindas
- We must suffer
Last summer, after several refusals from the SSS when they applied for social security benefits, the workers realised that Mustad had not paid the social security fees. In January this year, they took the management of the company to court.
The case is taken to court by the trade union of the floor-workers, Mustad Terminal Tackle Philippines Workers and Employees Association (MTTWEA), and has been signed by 217 out of the 381 workers of the company.
- When we complained about the issue in 1998, Mustad started to pay some of the money they owed. But they have, for example, not paid the social security money they deduct from our salaries in 1999. Meanwhile, we are the ones to suffer. Some workers have their applications turned down, and others have had to wait for 5-6 months before they have received their money from the SSS, says Pablo.
How much money Mustad has held back during the last years, is uncertain. But Calindas and Pablo have lists over some of the workers' lacking SSS-money from March and April this year, which amounts to almost 100,000 pesos (about 20,000 Norwegian kroner). If this has been going on for many years, we may be talking of millions of Norwegian kroner.
In March last year, the trade union (MTTWEA) sent a letter to the management of Mustad's head office in Gjøvik, Norway, in which they raised the issue. According to the letter, which is signed by the trade union leadership, the social security fraud had been going on for 10 months at the time. In the letter, the trade union also points out that Mustad has not paid the workers' and the company's share to the Pag-Ibig fund, which gives social benefits to the workers, for example through loans to housing.
- But more than a year later, we have still not received an answer from Norway, says Calindas.
In the letter, the trade union appeals to the Mustad management's sense of justice, and asks them to sort things out.
Acting managing director, Hans H. Mustad in the company's head office in Gjøvik, admits that he does not know of this case when NorWatch talks to him after having visited the Philippines. But after having contacted the Philippines management, he says that the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
- The fact is that we have paid the money to the SSS in the part of town called Makati, where we have our head office in Manila. But the SSS in the area where the workers live has not been informed of this. Now this has been straightened out, and the workers have withdrawn their case, says Mustad, who thinks this is a non-issue.
"When we complained about the issue in 1998, Mustad started to pay some of the money they owed. But they have, for example, not paid the social security money they deduct from our salaries in 1999. Meanwhile, we must suffer. Some workers have their applications turned down, and others have had to wait for 5-6 months before they have received their money from the SSS."
Chairperson of the board of the trade union, Cristina Pablo
The trade union, however, denies this. In a letter to NorWatch, they write that it is the court in Quezon which has dismissed the case, after the company convinced them that the social security fees have been paid.
But according to the trade union, the problem with the SSS has not been solved. The workers still get refusals from the SSS and the Pag-Ibig fund, with referral to Mustad's lacking payments.
When confronted with this, Hans H. Mustad makes some concessions:
- The company's payments to the social security system have been late because of bad liquidity, but this is about to be straightened out now, he says.
This is in accordance with the workers' account: The company's payments to the social security system have been irregular, and because Mustad is late with payments, the workers must suffer for the company's negligence.
In spite of the fact that the workers have complained about this for more than a year, the management in the Philippines has not informed the parent company in Norway. Now that they know about the issue, the workers only have one wish:
"...we are willing to cooperate with the management to settle this thing smoothly without any legal action. We only hope that Mustad Norway are aware of what is happening here in the Philippines", the trade union ends its letter to NorWatch.
Norwatch Newsletter 13/99