(Yet underpays them for all the effort.)

Workers of Assembly Apparel (not its real name) say the company gave out Duromine Phentermine-not ordinarily prescribed by doctors-to workers to keep them awake during once a week overnight work dating back to September 2002. Aside from the drug, the company also provides workers with Extra Joss, an energy drink.

Union president Lara (not her real name) says that only those who suffer from high blood pressure are exempted from taking the drug.

The Filipino company located in Rizal, makes JC Penney, Sears Roebuck, and Little Beetty baby dresses, which are exported to Canada and the U.S. The firm employs 420 workers (330 women).

Pharmacists say Duromine-intake not only increases adrenaline but also produces an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. It also causes dry mouth, insomnia and constipation.

Raquel (not her real name), who has worked in the company for five years, says that after taking Duromine for long, “Gising ka pero wala kang lakas. Kahit gusto mo nang matulog, hindi ka makakatulog,” (You’re awake but you don’t have energy. You won’t be able to sleep even if you wanted to.) Pharmacists say that the user might be immune to the drug already and has acquired extreme case of insomnia from the drug intake.

Phentermine, the generic name for Duromine, is also an anorexic agent and is prescribed for obese people. Research proves that it has no therapeutic use and obese people use it as a last resort for losing weight.

Phentermine belongs to the family of amphetamine and metamphetamine (found in shabu). Amphetamine is a CNS (Central Nervous System) stimulant, which has the same effects as Duromine but causes euphoria.

Although Phentermine has low liability for dependence, it can still be addictive.

A TUCP verifier, looking at the company’s compliance with core labor standards, shares that a 40-year-old female sewer already buys Duromine even if she’s not working overnight. “Kahit hindi siya nag-oovernight, gumagamit siya ng Duromine at least 2-3 times a week dahil mahina siya kumain pag nag-Duromine at hinahanap-hanap na niya ‘yung gamot.” (Even if she’s not working overnight, she still buys and takes Duromine 2-3 times a week because she loses appetite for food whenever she takes it. She craves the drug already.) The verifier added that the sewer even connived with a doctor just to get a prescription for the doctor. The drug costs P28 per capsule.

Forced overtime normally takes seven hours a day, six days a week in the firm.

“Kailangang makatapos ka ng quota, kung hindi, hindi ka makakauwi, ” says Gemma, a four-year sewer in the company. (You have to meet the quota. Otherwise, you won’t be allowed to go home.) Workers are issued with dreaded memos or suspension if they do not work overtime.

The irony: workers receive Php 100 to Php 180 a day, depending on the workers’ position. The minimum wage in the region is Php 237.

Workers are not allowed to take leaves or to go home when ill. “Kailangan yata mamatay ka muna sa loob bago ka payagang umuwi ‘pag may sakit,” Gemma added. (You would think one has to die before he would be allowed to go home.)

The company has been the subject of other complaints.

Supervisors and line leaders’ salaries have been dunned Social Security System (SSS) contributions, but when they verified with SSS, they were informed that the management remitted less than one year’s contributions. Regular workers’ contributions were stopped at their request; they found out the company never remitted their contributions.

“Management does not accept any excuse for absences,” Lara said in the vernacular. Workers are required to complete 96 working hours in two weeks. Otherwise, overtime hours are deducted to complete the 96-hour requirement. Overtime work is not fully paid.

Raquel filed a complaint for non-payment of overtime last October 9, 2002 with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). She was not allowed to return to work after the management received the notice of complaint from the NLRC.

Raquel also related that, in June 2002, after employees rendered overtime work, a company security guard threw tear gas at workers who were streaming home. Raquel says, “Sabik na umuwi ‘yung mga tao nun, tapos nagalit ‘yung guard, nagmumumura. Tapos binato ng tear gas ‘yung mga tao.” (Workers were excited to go home. The guard got mad, cussed at the workers. He threw tear gas at them.)

Use of toilets also poses a problem for workers since there is inadequate water supply at night. They are allowed to use the rest room only once in four continuous working hours. They are required to sign an attendance sheet and are reprimanded when they use the toilet more than once. Worse, they are not given morning and afternoon breaks, which could have been used for toilet processes.

There is no functional safety committee; the company does not provide safety equipment — in violation of national regulations.

Two weeks before buyers’ inspections, the company “improves” pay slips (indicates overtime hours and correct deductions), provides gas masks, hires a nurse and doctor, and places medicine, which are often expired, inside medicine cabinets. During the inspection by Sears Roebuck last October 28, 2002, management told workers what to say to inspectors during the interview.

Despite these problems, workers don’t think of resigning. “Magtitiis na lang kami kaysa mawalan ng trabaho.” (We’ll just endure, rather than lose our jobs.) Union organizing prospers.

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