ORGANIZED labor has urged Congress to be judicious in its investigation and review of Agribusiness Venture Arrangements (AVAs), including Joint Venture Agreements (JVAs), to protect the livelihood of almost 5 million plantation workers.
The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) made the appeal over the filing of House Bill (HB) 5085 and House Resolution (HR) 919, which both intend to investigate AVAs and JVAs in response to concerns of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs).
According to the group, the entire 4.8 million workers in banana, pineapple, cacao and palm oil, including those jobs in the agribusiness value chain in Mindanao, are jittery over their fate in the light of ongoing congressional investigation of the AVAs and JVAs.
“We respect the congressional inquiry into the AVAs but we cannot prevent Mindanaoan [the people of Mindanao in southern Philippines]workers and their families whose lives have been anchored on and around the agribusiness in Mindanao for decades to feel anxious and uncertain over the fate of their livelihood in view of the investigation,” ALU-TUCP president Michael Mendoza said.
“We urge our lawmakers to assure Mindanaoans and guarantee that the outcome of the query into the arrangements shall not alter the existing playing field. It should not result in job losses and displacements. The investigation should not result in uncertainty among stakeholders. It should rather send a message that the government is a reliable social and economic partner,” he added.
Mendoza said the ALU-TUCP supports measures that will strengthen generation of quality jobs for all workers in the agri-food value chain and enhance agri-entrepreneurship development and support mechanism for ARBs.
“It is our view that any proposed laws on the matter should focus on developing a genuine partnership between farmer beneficiaries and the agribusiness so as to enhance the dignity of the farmers and farm workers, and promote their agricultural security of tenure. It must retain existing investors and attract new investors as well to broaden the development in Mindanao,” he added.
The banana industry, the ALU-TUCP pointed out, is a good example in looking at the issue of the AVAs, saying the industry–with little or no government assistance–has created 503,000 direct and indirect jobs.
In 2014, according to the group, the industry contributed P6.5 billion to the national, municipal, city and barangay (village) coffers in the form of business, real property, income, withholding and miscellaneous taxes and many other fees collected for the operation of the business.
It urged Congress to be cautious in addressing the current issue and perform its role as a regulator to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society.
The government, the ALU-TUCP said, must also be equally effective in performing its function as provider of stable business and investment environment and as enabler for social and economic development that will benefit Filipinos, most especially those in rural areas.
The AVAs, based on Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) data as of March 2014, reached a total of 161 nationwide.
The DAR said the most common AVA was contract growing/growership, which accounted for 72 or 45 percent of the total AVAs.