Negros sugar workers seek gov’t help to cope with lean season

Members of National Federation of Sugar Workers and allied groups camp out in front of the DOLE-Negros Occidental Provincial Field Office in Bacolod City on Tuesday as part of their two-day ‘tiempo muerto’ mobilization that lasted until Wednesday, August 29.(Photo by Erwin P. Nicavera)

A progressive workers group in Negros Occidental is asking the government to institutionalize mechanisms that will help sugar farm workers cope with the difficulties of “tiempo muerto”, or three-month lean season in the sugar industry.

“Tiempo muerto” refers to the months between the planting and harvesting of sugarcane that usually lasts from June to September.

John Lozande, national secretary-general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), on Tuesday said sugar farm workers in the province suffer from extreme hunger and poverty during the three months of having no farm work.

Negros Occidental, the country’s sugar capital, produces about 60 percent of the Philippines’ sugar output.

“Dead season is an annual phenomenon. The government has already recognized it yet they have not established concrete solutions to confront such problem,” Lozande said.

He said the effects of “tiempo muerto” are intensely felt by sugar workers in many parts of the country, especially Negros Island.

This starts in the last part of June and peaks from August to September, Lozande said.

Members of NFSW and other militant groups in Negros Occidental are holding a two-day protest until Wednesday in this city to air the grievances of the affected sugar farm workers.

They camped out in front of Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)-Negros Occidental Provincial Field Office on Tuesday night.

Earlier on Tuesday, they had a dialogue with DOLE-6 Assistant Regional Director Salome Siaton, particularly on availing the agency’s Emergency Employment Program.

“In 2016, we were able to avail such program. We are still complying with the requirements set by the agency to avail of its assistance for 2017 and 2018,” Lozande added.

The group also trooped to the Social Security System (SSS)-Bacolod Branch on Lacson Street to call for immediate actions on the complaints against employers not paying their workers’ contribution.

Lozande said they will write the SSS head office to ask for a dialogue to come up with immediate ways to crack down on employers depriving the workers from availing various social benefits.

On Wednesday, they held a picket at the Provincial Capitol to also call for institutionalized interventions for sugar workers during dead season.

“Unlike some local government units, the Provincial Government has not extended any support services for workers during these difficult times,” Lozande added.PNA

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