In the latest effort by a Philippines luxury bag manufacturer to break a nascent union, nearly 1,000 workers were forced to take leave from January until March, denying them three months wages. This is the second round of forced leave imposed at the 3,000-worker facility in recent months, and one more action by the company to dishearten organized workers. 

In September, soon after the D’Luxe Bags Union won the election to represent workers at the factory, Patricio Tago, then union vice president, was abducted and imprisoned on false drug charges. The company has threatened to close the factory and transfer operations to a sister plant in the neighboring province. And workers face intimidation and increasingly difficult working conditions. 

The Philippines is ranked as one of the 10 worst countries for working people by the International Trade Union Confederation, specifically for violence against and arrest of trade unionists, and union busting.

Union leaders are fighting to end the forced leave and to secure a strong collective bargaining agreement with D’Luxe Bags–which produces women’s bags for luxury brands like Coach and Michael Kors. The factory is owned by Luen Thai Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong-based manufacturing and investment company.

Union President Angel Soliven said workplace conditions have declined since the union victory in September, and forced leave continues to occur despite quotas. While intimidation tactics often target union leaders directly, worsening work conditions affect everyone. 

“They’ve been taking away our incentives in increments,” says Soliven. “We used to get 2,000 pesos (about $36) monthly before 2019, but now we only receive 5 pesos (about 9 cents) at the most.”

A lot of the workers depend on incentive pay to supplement their income, as the provincial minimum wage is only 10,000 pesos (about $180) per month.

“We also have to reach a target quota of 130 to 180 bags per day, and they threaten us with forced leave if we don’t meet that,” she says.

Despite the challenges, the union is determined to stand strong. 

“We keep fighting so that we get to work in better conditions,” Soliven says.

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the News from The Solidarity Center