(Forced overtime, a new form of forced labor, also hazardous to health)

To meet export orders, many Philippine companies, including those inside economic zones, are resorting to a new form of forced labor — long, long hours of forced (many times under-compensated) overtime.

The practice has been around for many years, despite “diligent” labor inspection.

TUCP verifiers working in the Anti-Sweatshops campaign have been horrified by stories told by suffering workers [All companies in this article have been been given other names to protect workers who supplied the information]:

At Apparel Assembly, a Filipino producer of baby dresses for JC Penney, Sears Roebuck and Little Beetty in Rizal, overtime work averages seven hours a day with no morning and afternoon breaks.

During once a week overnight work, management distributes Duromine which keeps workers awake even for 24 hours. Pharmacists say that the drug increases adrenaline, produces an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and causes dry mouth, insomnia and constipation.

A 24-year-old female operator’s three right hand fingers were cut by a pressing machine in the second week of overtime work in October 2001 at Charing Inc. in Subic. The company, a Taiwanese-producer of ACER computer parts, which are exported to US, Japan, Europe and Asia, forced workers to render 6 hours overtime work everyday for three weeks in September-October 2001 to meet orders.

A TUCP verifier said the management realized the need to put sensors as safety feature in the machines only after seven recorded accidents involving their pressing machine operators. However, forced overtime, which contributes to accidents, continues.

Aloha Manufacturing Corporation (Manila) employees work for 20 long hours daily. NafNaf, GAP, Old Navy, Mackays and Barbie-labeled swimsuits, which are exported to the US, Europe, Japan, and U.K., are fashioned in this company.

At Dollar Save Philippines, a Korean-owned producer in Cavite of coats and pants with labels Abriani, Aldo Rossini, Brutini, Cornellie, Cross Windsor, Exhibit, J P Christopher, Moda Prima and Via Venetto, employees are forced to work overtime (until two in the morning) inside locked gates for two straight months. Employees are given only one-hour break for the whole day. At least one female employee has developed anemia from days and days of continuous 6 hours of overtime work.

“Regular” working hours average 20 hours a day for 6 days a week at Mayto Philippines, which produces bags, jackets, apparel and children’s wear for GAP and Old Navy in Cavite.

At Texworld Industries, making t-shirts and baby dresses with labels GAP, Tommy Hilfiger and Gymboree in Tarlac, management locks gates and holds time cards to force workers to work overtime. At one time, employees were forced to work for 3 days straight and afterwards, were given only 3 hours break to go home and get back to work.

In Western Exports Corporation, a Korean-owned producer of K-Mart, Quelle, Siggerman, and By Design-labeled knitted sweaters in Cavite, employees work 48 straight hours once a month. Four female union members were suspended in April 2002 after they refused to work over time.

Employees are forced to work overtime (even overnight) and are not allowed to go home at Gappers Philippines, Inc. in Cavite, a Korean-owned maker of GAP and Old Navy garments, which are exported to the U.S. and U.K. Some 551 employees work 10 hours for Php 217 a day; but union officers are banned from the “privilege”.

Luggage Makers Corporation in Subic, a Taiwanese-owned manufacturer of plastic luggage cart (finished products and parts) and car wash brushes for brands like Louis Vuitton, Tumi and Sanyei for export to the US, Japan, England, Taiwan, China and Germany, at times makes employees work for 16 long hours a day to meet delivery schedules.

Workers’ requests not to render overtime are routinely turned down. If workers do not comply with forced overtime, they are not allowed to go out of the company premises and are given warning memos the following day.

DKNY underwear, exported to the U.S., is fashioned at Korean-owned Underwear, Limited in Cavite. Workers complain of compulsory regular overtime of two hours a day, six days a week.

At Infoware Corporation in Subic, manufacturer of Acer, IBM, Dell. Toshiba desktops, laptops and parts for export to the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Holland, the regular workweek is 60 hours, but this extends to 72 long hours during the peak season.

“Hindi titigil ang operations hangga’t hindi nami-meet ang quota for immediate shipment,” a TUCP unionist said. [Operations continue until the quota for immediate shipment is met.] Just like Infoware’s union-busting operations which have been going on for two years.

Employees work for 14-16 long hours a day and management pointedly implements forced overtime when the union calls for a meeting at We Care Corporation, a Korean manufacturer of bags with Jansport and Eddie Bauer brands in Bataan. Time cards are held in the office to prevent workers from leaving and escaping overtime work. The contracts of those who refuse to work overtime are prematurely terminated.

Forced overtime is common at This Is It Inc., a Taiwanese manufacturer of microphones for Acer in Subic. At times, workers work until 11 p.m. (15 straight hours!) without break “to meet orders”. Employees who do not comply with compulsory overtime are dealt with severely, with notices of offence or suspension. In one instance, shortly after management received the union’s letter for voluntary recognition, a woman worker collapsed from hunger and fatigue as the company tried to spite the union and pushed overtime even longer than normal.

Many employees of these companies dare not complain or file cases for fear that they would no longer be asked to render normal overtime work and will lose extra compensation, or worse, get fired.

Article 83 of the Philippine Labor Code says “The normal working hours of an employee shall not exceed eight hours a day.” Article 87 of the same Code says “Work may be performed beyond eight hours provided that the employees is paid for the overtime work, an additional compensation equivalent to his regular wage plus at least 25% thereof…”

The law is clear on compensation that employees must receive for overtime work, but there are no limits on overtime hours. There is less concern on effects of long hours of forced overtime on workers’ health.

“Experts say there are no studies on the relationship between forced overtime and health problems, and not all studies confirm the harmful effects of working long shifts. But job stress–which many employees say is exacerbated by mandatory overtime, can be hazardous to health.” (Stein, 2001)

“Job-related stress increases the risk of muscle and skeletal disorders, heart disease, depression and burnout, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).”

NIOSH senior scientist and psychologist Roger Rosa, Ph.D., notes that “frequency of overtime hours, outside emotional support, day or night hours (night is worse), job tasks and workload increases the effects of workers’ stress.”

A 1999 Canadian account on extensive working hours found that workers experienced increased depression, such as unhealthy weight gain in men and drinking in women. Japanese employees encountered an increase in cardiovascular difficulties. “And a 1998 German study found that workers experienced a significant rise in accidents and traumatic incidents after nine to 10 hours on a shift.”

Dr. Rosa says stress levels surge when employees are unable to predict or regulate their work schedule. “In general, stress issues go up when control goes down. And control over your working hours is fundamental to how you organize not only your work life, but also the rest of your life.”

With increasing numbers of companies implementing forced overtime, workers’ well being is continuously jeopardized. Workers and unions are fighting back, building awareness and spreading information on labor standards, and organizing workers around long forced overtime as an issue, among many issues.

That is another story!

Stein, Loren. Consumer Health Interactive,
May 27, 2001

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