Workers hopeful ILO visit will lead to better environment for labor, unions

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Workers hopeful ILO visit will lead to better environment for labor, unions
Members of the All Workers Unity call for a salary increase during a protest rally along Chino Roces bridge on November 23, 2022.
STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Workers' groups are optimistic that the International Labour Organization - High Level Tripartite Mission to the Philippines later this month will lead to policy recommendations for the government to respect workers' rights, including the right to organize unions to press for better working conditions.

In an "Obrero Talks" briefing on Saturday night, labor leaders and organizers laid out how labor leaders and workers' groups have been demonized, harassed and attacked since 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte was elected into office partly on a platform to end labor contractualization.

"It was the first time that workers heard that kind of platform from a presidential candidate," PJ Dizon, president of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm (NAMASUFA), said in Filipino, adding this was why many workers supported and voted for Duterte. 

The promise to end contractual labor ended with Duterte's veto in 2019 of the Security of Tenure bill that he had told Congress urgently needed to be passed. Speakers on "Obrero Talks" said the undelivered promise also came with attempts to weaken unions and persuade them to disaffiliate from labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno. NAMASUFA is an affiliate of the National Federation of Labor Unions-Kilusang Mayo Uno.

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'Contractual labor denies workers their rights'

Jerome Adonis, secretary general of KMU, said that labor contracting deprives workers of security of tenure and of mandated benefits but also violates the right to organize and to enter into collective bargaining agreements despite the Philippines being a signatory to ILO conventions on those. 

"For the longest time, these rights have been violated," he said as he stressed that these rights are also recognized by the Labor Code and the Constitution. "Technically, if you are a contractual worker, you cannot join a union... and you cannot enter into a CBA without a union."

Meanwhile, Dizon said workers in Mindanao who went on strike during the declaration of martial law across the island were met with violent dispersals and arrests. Efforts to intimidate workers' groups include the arson of a union office, the distribution of leaflets during union certification elections labeling union organizers as communist rebels, and the abduction of union leaders to scare them into disaffiliating from KMU, he also said.

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Roel Duyag, KMU coordinator in the Caraga region, said the number of local unions has gone down to 4 from 21 because of the intimidation, which, in Agusan del Sur included security forces putting up a detachment at a palm oil plantation and doing house to house visits on workers.

Unions give workers a voice with management

Maria Engcoy of the Nexperia Philippines Inc. Workers Union in Laguna said she was also visited at home by police and military personnel to accuse the union of using its dues to support the rebel New People's Army and also to pressure NPIWU to bolt from KMU.

"There is nothing wrong with affiliation. Our connection to KMU is for legal matters," she said, adding that the union was able to negotiate with the electronics manufacturing firm to provide workers shuttles to take them to and from work during the pandemic lockdowns. 

"Why is having a union good? We have a voice to speak to management, to tell them what their workers needs are," she said.

She said that the first visits by security forces were during the lockdowns, which she said was strange because everyone had been told at the time to stay at home if possible and to avoid contact with others if possible.

Other speakers at the briefing said visits to union leaders' and labor organizers' homes also happened in their regions.

"For armed and uniformed personnel to visit you is already harassment. Their dictating on you to disaffiliate is already harassment," Engcoy said.

Despite the repeated visits to her home, she said that the union has stood firm because "we need to speak the truth so that others will know that there is nothing wrong with forming a union."

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United front for workers

Adonis said that the last ILO-HLTM to the Philippines was during the Arroyo administration and that the recommendations to the government were left unheard. He said he and other labor leaders are more hopeful this time because all labor centers affiliated with the International Trade Union Confederation and under the Council of Global Unions are working together for this visit.

Regional consultations have already been held in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in preparation for the ILO-HLTM visit, he said, adding informal workers were included in the multi-sectoral talks.

He said workers' groups will push for accountability over rights violations against workers and for executive and legislative action for pro-worker policies like security of tenure and a national minimun wage.

Kamz Deligente of the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights said that the scheduled visit is already a victory for workers in a country that is often listed among the 10 most dangerous for workers. 

She said there have been 56 reported killings from among workers in the agricultural and informal sectors as well as among unionists and labor organizers while at least 17 are in detention.

"All we have been fighting for are a living wage, job security and benefits but we are already called terrorists, so in the face of all this, that the ILO-HLTM is finally coming is already a wwin for us," Deligente said.

"We are very optimistic that the [mission's] recommendations will be for a better climate for labor organizing."

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