Text and photos by Psyche Roxas-Mendoza
At 29 years of age, standing all of five feet and two inches and weighing 140 pounds, Hazel Arado holds the distinction of being the only woman welder among 68 workers employed at Allied Metals, Inc.
The company, with more than 50 years experience in the fabrication of stainless steel commercial kitchen equipment, has opened its doors to women workers very late.
Joselito Dalauidao, the plant manager who has been with Allied Metals for almost half its corporate life, said that they only started trying to employ women when he became plant manager some two years ago, in 2016.
“It’s because there was this view that women were a ‘distraction’ inside the plant. Men tend to help women with their tasks, and this cannot be in an assembly line type of work. But we’re trying it anyway, because women are really very good at welding,” Dalauidao said.
Mark Bryan Alonzo, production engineer, said the work inside the plant entails much heavy lifting. “When we assemble our tables, for example, women have a hard time lifting their finished work. And things get more complicated when they get pregnant. By then, they cannot do welding because of the fumes.”
LONE WOMAN WELDER
Being the only woman regular welder does not faze Arado. “I came with other female welder applicants. But they did not pass. I did. I just do the best I can.”
The fourth child in a brood of five, Arado spent her childhood in a riverside shanty on the fishing town of Navotas, near the dockyards of Tondo, Manila.
“We were squatters,” she said, adding that they were later relocated to Erap 2000, a low-cost housing program of then President Joseph Estrada in the village of Muzon in San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan province.
Over the years, thousands of informal settlers living along creeks, esteros, riverbanks, and railway tracks in Metro Manila have been relocated to San Jose Del Monte, which now has three of the biggest resettlement sites in the Philippines—Sapang Palay, Towerville in the village of Minuyan, and Erap 2000, with 21,000 low-cost housing units.
The Arado abode is a small, cramped, two-bedroom unit spread over a 50 by 40 square meter lot. “The house is owned by my parents. I live with them, together with my sister-in-law and a nephew,” Arado said.
She added that they all help to take care of their mother who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.
Most days, Arado does not have time to eat breakfast or prepare food to take with her to the plant. “I wake up at 5:30 am, take a bath, and then dress up and rush to work. I usually finish by 4 p.m., unless I do overtime.”
The Allied Metals plant is only 1.5 kilometers away from the Arado home. And just like other workers who live near the plant, Arado either rides a bicycle or a motorcycle to work.
It took three months of training before this high school graduate learned the skill of welding. “I paid P1,200 (US$22.50) to take a welder training at the government’s training center. I first worked as a welder in a stainless steel mini-shop in Bocaue, Bulacan, earning P250 (US$4.70) a day. I took another welding job before I finally got accepted here at Allied Metals in October 2015.”
Arado manages to finish one to two items in a day. “For small items like a table, I’d finish two in a day. For big items like a cabinet, I’d need a day and about five hours of overtime.”
Last year, the workers of Allied Metals got their first exposure to “Principled, Inclusive, and Business Sustainable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Approach,” a project implemented and promoted by their union, the FFW and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, with the Danish Trade Union Council for International Development Cooperation or LO/FTF Council as main partner.
Arado has been a union member since November 2016. She said the trainings they took as a result of the CSR, made her understand the value of good relations between union and management.
“Before, we waited until the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to discuss issues. Now, through the Labor-Management Cooperation, we can raise our issues with them any time,” she said.
Arado made particular mention of the Basic Occupational Safety and Health (BOSH) training, saying that she really considered safety to be important to workers in the plant.
“It is true that welding (its fumes) can destroy the lungs. That is why we need to protect ourselves with facemasks. We need safety shoes to protect the feet in case heavy equipment falls on them. And we need gloves to protect our hands. BOSH made us and management aware of the need for safety. Now, we have a complete set of gloves, a mask, goggles, and safety shoes.”
Arado added that before, they did not have masks and improvised with the use of a T-shirt wrapped around the face to cover the mouth and nose.
A quick tour of the plant premises proved Arado’s assertion. All around, welders set about their tasks clad in complete Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)—masks, goggles, gloves, and safety shoes.
There was one instance when an on-the-job-training (OJT) welder named Ella Amor Ape wore a used T-shirt for a mask.
An OJT in Allied Metals lends 600 hours of work. Ape, a third year industrial engineering student from the Bulacan State University, is setting her sights on working abroad as a welder.
Arado said, however, that the members of the Safety committee see to it that even OJTs like Ape comply with safety procedures. “When a safety equipment becomes defective, it is replaced without need for us (workers) to pay,” she said.
Alvin Caparan, 30, works as a machine grind operator at Allied Metals, Inc. in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan province.
He believes in the value of safety in the workplace, citing that this value became enhanced among all Allied Metal workers since their union engaged in the Principles-based, Inclusive, and Business-sustainable Corporate Social Responsibility (PBIBSCSR) program.
With the Danish Trade Union Council for International Development Cooperation or LO/FTF Council as main partner, the PBIBSCSR was promoted and implemented by Caparan’s union, the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), together with the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP).
“Our union president asked who among us would be interested in undergoing a training-seminar on Safety, as well as Labor-Management Cooperation (LMC). I volunteered. I wanted to learn more about the rights of workers, labor-management relations, and protection in the work place. Ordinary workers like me learned a lot from those training-seminars,” Caparan said.
Like fellow worker Hazel Arado, this graduate of a two-year Practical Nursing vocational course, lives within striking distance of the Allied Metals plant.
It takes Caparan only two to three minutes on his motorbike to reach the plant from the small bungalow he shares with his live-in partner and full-time housewife Ann Margaret, their three-year-old son Aldray Raymon, and his wife’s parents.
Caparan has been with Allied Metals for two years, first entering as a contractual in 2015 and a year later re-entering as a machine grind operator trainee, leading to regularization by early next year.
Always volunteering for overtime work, he bared that the extra pay is very important for him to see to the needs of his growing family.
Florinda Mangahas-Peralta, mother-in-law of Caparan, said that his son-in-law contributes to the upkeep of their household. “He pays for the water and electricity and augments our food needs. He is thoughtful and generous.”
NO WORKER QUOTAS
Plant manager Joselito Dalauidao said there are no quotas set for workers at Allied Metals. “What we have is an incentive pay scheme. Workers get an additional P600 (US$11.20) a month, aside from their take-home pay, if they finish fabricating about P14 million (US$263,355)-worth of equipment. Another P100 (US$1.80) is given for every million peso increase to the P14M target,” Dalauidao said.
He added that the target isn’t too high since it only takes a team of workers thee days to wrap up a P1.4 million (US$26,335)-worth of standard fast-food kitchen equipment. Dalauidao pointed to a finished steel table and said that this single item already costs P12,000 (US$213.7). Allied Metals imports almost five tons of stainless steel sheets a month to meet its target output.
Of his work, Caparan observed: “The work requires attention to detail and you have to put up with ear-splitting noise. If you are not careful, a splinter can hit you in the eye or hurt your hand.
He added that he and his fellow workers, including management, understood better the hazards present in the workplace through the BOSH seminar.
“We became more aware,” Caparan said and with these new awareness came changes that promoted safety and worker protection.
“Before, when we accidentally cut ourselves, we would just wash the wound in the faucet and put band aid to stop the bleeding. Now, we approach these situations differently. We ask ourselves why did the accident happen in the first place. And we resolve it from there,” he said.
Caparan said that “housekeeping” was achieved by ridding the workplace of hazards such as chemicals not properly stored in racks and lack of machine guards. It meant maintaining the effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE) and learning the basics of safety and protection by having a clean work station.
“After BOSH, we became more aware of maintaining a clean workplace. We placed machine guards over electric fans to prevent untoward injury. Before we only had all-purpose, cotton gloves that we fixed with masking tape whenever they got torn. Now, our gloves are lined with rubber and thus, offers more protection. You don’t get burned with rubberized gloves, the way you do with cotton gloves,” Caparan further said.
He added that one of his best realizations during the training was that he could apply the safety lessons he learned in his home. “I make sure our house is clean and safe for my son. No scattered nails or roofing sheet in the house. I have become safety conscious.” G