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Two years after mass terminations, Citra Mina workers determined to struggle for their rights

16 November 2015 Feature
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Two years ago the Citra Mina Group of Companies, among the largest tuna exporters in General Santos, the Philippines, terminated 234 workers for exercising their human right to form a trade union. With the support of SENTRO, the ITF and IUF the union successfully mobilized community support to challenge an unsustainable, unethical tuna industry. In the 24 months since the unfair termination of union leaders and members, the campaign for "Worker Safe" tuna has seen the struggle for reinstatement become a struggle for the future of the tuna industry itself.

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On November 13 union members and their families marked the second anniversary of their struggle by marching 18 kilometres from the Citra Mina factory to offices of the Mayor of General Santos at City Hall.

The rescue of 43 fishing vessel workers abandoned by Citra Mina in Indonesia exposed the company's blatant disregard for human life. Only through union intervention and the support of the IUF could the fishing workers return home to their families. As part of the "Worker Safe" campaign the union secured a government livelihood grant for the returned fishing workers to build training boats and to support their families.

Citra Mina's view that workers are disposable was further exposed by reports released to the media showing that 17 fishing vessel workers remain "missing" after Citra Mina refused to take responsibility for their deaths at sea.

Congressional hearings in Manila in March 2015 exposed the abusive employment practices and rights violations at Citra Mina, drawing national and international media attention and compelling government authorities at both national and local level to intervene to resolve this crisis. Citra Mina has fewer and fewer political allies as both elected politicians and other tuna companies realize that Citra Mina's actions have seriously damaged the reputation of the industry in General Santos, the "tuna capital" of the Philippines.

The public hearing on employment conditions in the tuna industry was held for the first time in General Santos on August 10, 2015. As a testament to the importance of this issue for the community more than 1,200 people attended the hearing, overflowing outside the meeting room which could only fit 500. The terminated union leaders and members attended as well as rescued  fishing vessel workers and their families. The demand for "Worker Safe" tuna and sustainable fisheries is not just a slogan but a call for the comprehensive transformation of the fisheries industry to ensure that respect for human rights and sustainable jobs are integral to the sustainability of the fisheries industry.

As testament to the courage and determination of the Citra Mina workers union membership has more than doubled in the past two years despite brutal conditions and the repressive actions of management. Citra Mina workers had even more to celebrate on the second anniversary of the campaign for justice at Citra Mina when the Bureau of Labour Relations announced it will reverse an earlier decision to cancel the union's registration.

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