By Harald Eraker
Club KonTiki is one of many beach hotels that line the beach on the eastern side of Mactan, one of the Philippines' 7000 islands. The hotel has specialised in snorkelling on the coral reefs and other water activities. Club KonTiki was started 10 years ago and is owned by a joint venture between a Swedish businessman and the Norwegian Jens Hansen, or Captain Hansen, as the employees call him.
- We are 30 permanently employed workers here, but in periods with many tourists, extra help is hired, says one of the female employees at the hotel, which NorWatch visited last summer.
The holiday paradise's brochure advertises with a "friendly and efficient staff that serves you with a smile". But a labour dispute is hidden behind the workers' friendly attitude towards the tourists, who are mainly Europeans, Americans and Japanese.
- Up to 1995, the Club KonTiki staff was unorganised. They were paid 10-20 pesos (0.25-0.5 USD) below the legal minimum salary per day. We therefore raised their case through the trade union National Federation of Labour (NFL), says Nilo Anorico.
He works for the organisation LEARN, which assists trade unions and workers who want to organise.
- At that time, we wrote a letter about the salary scales to Captain Hansen. But when he did not answer for several months, we asked NFL for assistance to organise ourselves. Many of the workers were afraid when we started to talk of forming a trade union, but I told them that this was the only way to improve our situation, says the female employee.
Unwilling to sign
- In late 1995, the workers formed their trade union and elected their representatives. Their first demand was to get the money Club KonTiki owed them, in other words the difference between their salaries and the legal minimum salary. This demand was met, and the next move was negotiations with the management about a collective tariff agreement, says Anorico.
The Norwegian and the Swedish owners of the beach hotel sent their lawyer as their representative in the negotiations.
- Captain Hansen's lawyer was very positive to our demands. He even wanted to give us more than we demanded. I do not know if this was the reason, but suddenly he was fired by Captain Hansen, says one of the workers.
The tariff negotiations were not continued until October 1997, this time with a new lawyer. In 1998, the parties finally agreed on a draft agreement.
- But since that time, Hansen has denied to accept it. He lives here on the island, but he is never here. We have asked for his signature many times without getting an answer, says the worker in despair.
Call for strike
- He must understand that it is better for both parties to have an agreement. I do not know why he does not answer. Maybe he is not used to trade unions, says one of the waiters in the hotel tavern.
- According to Philippine labour law, an agreement that has been negotiated in good faith is valid. When the management sends their lawyer as their representative, it is their obligation to sign the draft one has agreed on, says Anorico, who informs that NLF has recommended that the workers take Hansen to court.
- We have sent out a call for strike because of this. But we are still debating whether to do it or not. Strike is risky for us, and we are willing to go to considerable lengths to reach an agreement, says the female employee.
No work, no pay
The content in parts of the draft agreement has been implemented during the last few years. According to the workers, the financial aspects of the agreement are probably the main cause for Hansen's refusal to sign it. Today, the entire hotel staff gets the minimum salary, that is 165 pesos (approximately 4 USD) per day.
- I have a wife and four children to support, and I am only paid the minimum salary even though I have worked at Club KonTiki for 6 years. But there are no alternative jobs, says the waiter.
- We used to work normal workdays of 8 hours, six days a week. But Club KonTiki has been through some hard times lately, and often we only work five days a week. When there is no work, we do not get paid, says the female worker.
None of the workers have a written contract, but they do not consider that to be a problem.
- The law says that we are automatically permanent employees when we have worked at the same place for more than 6 months, they explain.
After NorWatch visited Club KonTiki last summer, it has not been possible to have Hansen's comments on the problems the workers told us about.
"According to Philippine labour law, a tariff agreement that has been negotiated between employer and employee in good faith, is valid. When Club KonTiki sends their lawyer as their representative, it is their obligation to sign the draft one has agreed on."
Nilo Anorico, who works for the trade union organisation LEARN
"We have sent out a call for strike because of Hansen's refusal to sign the agreement. But we are still debating whether to do it or not. Strike is risky for us, and we are willing to go to considerable lengths to reach an agreement."
A female employee at Club KonTiki
Club KonTiki in the Philippines
The beach hotel Club KonTiki was established 10 years ago on the island Mactan, and is owned by the Norwegian Jens Hansen and a Swedish businessman. The holiday paradise, which has 24 hotel rooms, offers their tourists a range of water activities, such as snorkelling, water skiing, wind surfing and chartered yacht tours.
Norwatch Newsletter 16/99