In Mandaue City, home to 40% of Cebu’s export industries, local government officials turn into doctors when it comes to resolving labor woes.
Since adopting a program that allows the city government to intervene in labor conflicts, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” has become the mantra of officials and businessmen.
A marketing company based in the area was once losing P348,680 a day due to a labor dispute. This may be a staggering figure but non-monetary losses, such as damage to the fragile trust between labor and management, costs even more.
Strikes and labor disputes started hounding the city when its economy started to grow. As Cebu’s industrial center, businesses are highly capital- and labor-intensive.
During the term of Mayor Alfredo M. Ouano from 1988 to 1995, Mandaue City experienced an economic boom. Annual income surged from P30 million in 1988 to P196 million in 1995.
When the Asian financial crisis in 1997 struck, companies in the city struggled to stay afloat by scrimping on employee benefits and trimming down their workforce. These resulted in an increase in labor disputes. The city government did not have a single office that looked into labor issues and officials got caught with their pants down whenever problems arose.
Amid this chaotic backdrop, the city government turned to a European idea dubbed as the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (TIPC). The program placed the government in between labor and management, an impartial entity that both could trust. To make conciliation better, the TIPC has a board of trustees where representatives of labor unions and management in every industry sat together.
The board crafted a mechanism that allowed it to resolve labor disputes or lift a strike or a lockout at the onset. A Quick Reaction Team, composed of management and labor trustees in an industry, is immediately dispatched to a company that sounds the alarm bell when a labor problem arises.
The TIPC’s creative and regular meetings have also helped build relationships and improved communication lines. The TIPC holds, not just the usual seminars, forums, orientations and planning sessions, but also “Sabado Nights” – a friendly fellowship competition among the workers of various companies. There is also the “Sarap Magtrabaho, Bay!” (It’s Great To Work, Pal!) where companies purchase 20 cases of beer that serve as their employees’ tickets to join a band concert.
With stronger relations cemented between labor and management, parties could now understand each other’s position more objectively. This is especially so in a tough economic environment where companies had to resort to cost saving measures which impact on workers. Labor even agrees to compressed workweeks, job rotations, and shortened working days or hours to help the company to tide over the trying times.
Proving that the program worked, there was not a single strike in Mandaue City last year.