Friday, April 13, 2012

Shipyard not graveyard!

Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay, Philippines, was set up in 2006 in the industrial zone established  when the US naval base there closed. Since its construction, the shipyard has become the world’s 4th largest shipbuilding facility making the Philippines a major center for the shipping industry & employing 21,000 workers. Subic Bay Freeport Zone is one of 5,000 trade free zones established around the world since the 1970s with  millions of workers employed in them (43 million in 1999). Countries view these zones as a way to attract direct foreign investment & create industrialization but they are part of neoliberal economic strategy to dismantle trade & tariff barriers & to control labor without rights or restrictions. Labor disputes are endemic since workers are denied basic rights or health & safety protections amounting in many cases to human rights crimes. The Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay as well as their shipyard facility in Korea are hell holes of labor violations including improper payment of wages, thousands of work-related accidents, deaths from accidents, illegal terminations & suspensions, physical assaults by Korean supervisors (which the company attributes to cultural differences), violations of safety practices, including no weight lifting protections, being forced to weld in blistering heat, denial of protective equipment & uniforms for handling toxic material, denial of toilet breaks, inadequate on-site medical care (leading to deaths & permanent injury), & of course, the refusal to recognize a union that can defend workers.

Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean conglomerate, made its fortune from US military contracts in the Korean & Vietnam wars. Since 2007, their premier facility in Subic Bay  exported 14 vessels, each worth $60 million minimum. They project a profit of $3.4 billion by the end of 2012 on their $1 billion investment. Hanjin views their investment as a license to maximum exploitation of Filipino labor. Hanjin workers have flooded government agencies with complaints, including the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Filipino parliament, political officials. They have demanded the government uphold labor laws & safety standards at the Hanjin shipyard but the Filipino oligarchs making a killing from Hanjin’s investment ignore their appeals. The government guaranteed Hanjin a fifty-year lease, ten years of tax-free operations, & absolute control over the work force since this suits their needs as well.

Hanjin Workers have received active solidarity from labor, church, & political groups and most movingly from Hanjin shipyard workers in Korea. Representatives from Hanjin Korea toured & spoke to Hanjin workers & supporters about their own struggle against Hanjin & their relentless efforts over years to be treated with respect & fairness. Last year, the first woman welder at Hanjin Korea occupied a crane for several months to protest lay-offs. Hanjin cut electricity & food to her but she persisted & said: “I feel it is my mission, it is what I owe to the future generation of workers & the younger ones so that they will not have to go through the same inhuman treatment & unfair dismissals that we had to go through. I feel really bad that while we are making little headways in improving our working conditions in Korea, the same company is doing its repressive activities here with even greater repression against the Filipino workers by not recognizing the union at all.”

You will find email addresses at the bottom of this blog where you can voice your own protests against Hanjin abuses & lend your support to Hanjin workers:

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