Garment workers in Cebu province’s economic processing zones face an uphill battle in their fight for better working conditions as their factories push back using anti-union tactics, including the firing of union leaders.

Globalwear Manufacturing, Inc., terminated Alan Esponga, Association of Globalwear Employees’ Union PIGLAS (AGSEU-PIGLAS) president, citing excessive absences. Esponga says he was denied leave during a personal emergency to create an excuse to dismiss him.

AGSEU-PIGLAS and its sister union, Globalwear Employees’ Union PIGLAS (GEU-PIGLAS), represent over 2,000 workers manufacturing for brands like Nike and Under Armour.During two certification elections, management also used unfair tactics to try to sway the vote against the union, including offering financial incentives to vote against the union and threatening factory closure if the unions won.

The overt attempts to undermine union organizing and bargaining create fear among the workforce., Victorio Evaribto, union president at Vertex1 Apparel Phils., Inc., another Under Armour supplier, says, “Our young workforce, many of whom support families back home, fear losing their jobs if they join the union.”

Evaribto says the company’s human resources department has discouraged new employees from joining a union, warning them against exercising their right to freedom of association.

However, union leaders remain hopeful in the thick of challenges and persistent in inviting co-workers to orientations on the benefits of unionization.

“We want to dispel the myth that unions are bad or illegal,” said Lucil, president of a budding union at another garment factory in Cebu, emphasizing the goal of creating a more balanced relationship between management and workers.

“Understanding our rights empowers us to fight for them,” added Erlinda Bardenas, GEU-PIGLAS president. “Together, through our union, we can achieve this.”

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