Uphold freedom of association, implement the labor agenda – CPDG

January 24, 2023

International Labor Organization (ILO) High-Level Tripartite Mission to the Philippines (HLTM) is currently ongoing from January 23 to 26, 2023. The mission will investigate the various cases of violations to international labor standards and the reported alarming state of freedom of association in the Philippines.

The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) supports the various workers groups in their demands to uphold freedom of association and right to organize, collective bargaining and living wage, among others.

The recommendation to implement the HLTM in the Philippines was formulated in 2019 after the continuing and mounting cases of violations to the ILO Convention No. 87 or the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention such as arrests, detentions, killings, harassment, and overall repression of trade unionists and trade union movement in the Philippines. After two years of refusal by the Duterte administration, workers groups successfully pushed the government to accept the conduct of the HLTM.

Aside from the ILO Convention 87, another fundamental freedom of association (FOA) convention ratified by the Philippines is the ILO Convention No. 98 or the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention. The ratification of these conventions ensued a regular dialogue between the ILO and the government itself to realize these labor standards and commit to respect and protect the freedom of workers to form associations and to organize themselves. However, the record shows repeated cases of violations of freedom of association and civil liberties as reported by workers organizations. 

“The Philippine government failed in guaranteeing FOA and failed to serve justice on serious violations of the FOA under worsening climate of impunity. Many of these serious violations of the FOA over the last two decades and especially during the Duterte administration are also violations of fundamental human rights and civil liberties,” says Rochelle Porras, CPDG Vice President.

Under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s governance, labor rights violations heightened with increasing impunity. This is reflected in the Philippines being listed as one of the ten worst countries for workers in the International Trade Union Confederation Global Rights Index in the past six years. 

According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) in the Philippines, 56 cases of extrajudicial killings (EJK), 29 cases of harassment and intimidation, 6 cases of enforced disappearances, 4 cases of illegal detention, and 27 cases of incarceration on trumped-up charges of agricultural workers, trade unionists and labor rights defenders happened under the Duterte administration. Aside from these cases, red-tagging and interference from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) going from factories to factories to vilify unionism and coerce workers to disaffiliate from their union organizations is also noted.

Notable cases of violation of labor standards are the cases of Manny Asuncion, Dandy Miguel, Loi Magbanua, Dyan Gumanao, Armand Dayoha, and the Sagay 9. Manny Asuncion, who was a long-time labor leader, was brutally killed by police forces during the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Southern Tagalog in March 2021 along with six other activists in separate police operations in Cavite, Batangas and Rizal provinces. On January 16, 2023, the Department of Justice dismissed the murder case filed against 17 police officers responsible for Asuncion’s death. Dandy Miguel, a Union President, was shot by unknown assailants while he was driving his motorcycle in Calamba, Laguna. There’s also Loi Magbanua, a lesbian labor organizer who was abducted and disappeared on May 3, 2022. Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha, development workers, were abducted in Cebu port on January 10, 2023. Nine sugar workers who were members of National Federation of Sugar Workers, were massacred by armed men last October 20, 2018 in Hacienda Nene, Sagay, Negros Occidental. The sugar workers were on their first night of land cultivation. 

“To organize and unionize is important for workers to protect their rights, including collective bargaining and participation in creating policies and laws which will genuinely benefit them, ending all forms of contractualization, and receiving livable wage”, asserts Porras.

“There are many challenges to the resolution of violations  of freedom of association. These include the lack of institutional coordination among monitoring and investigative bodies; lack of forensics capacity; lack of stronger mechanisms to cascade labor and human rights principles in the security forces; lack of trade union and civil society participation in current monitoring and investigative mechanisms. Also, labor inspections are only voluntary” says Julius Cainglet, Vice President for Research of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW).

To address these challenges, there should be stronger institutional coordination among Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the  Inter-Agency Committee On Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons under the Administrative Order 35 (AO 35) in terms of data sharing, case inventory, and monitoring and investigation coordination. Labor inspections should be mandatory. “Policy reforms and changes to the AO 35 operational guidelines can also be endorsed by a tripartite body. This includes greater participation, role and involvement or inclusion of the DOLE and the trade unions in the implementation of AO 35; and, highlight the need to address human rights issues in the context of growth and development” Cainglet said.

In the joint stakeholders’ priority recommendations to the UPR of the Philippines submitted to the diplomatic community last September 27, 2022, CSOs forwarded the following policy reform on workers’ rights and in securing jobs generation through adoption of strategic economic policies, to wit:

  1. Stop all forms of contractual employment schemes that erode just and favorable conditions of work. 
  2. Give a substantial minimum wage hike that reverses the fall in real wages; repeal the Wage Rationalization Act of 1989 and legislate a National Minimum Wage ensuring a living wage. 
  3. Protect workers’ rights to unionize and seek redress for grievances by preventing violence in relation to the exercise of workers’ and employers’ organizations legitimate activities; investigating allegations of violence towards punishing perpetrators; and operationalizing monitoring bodies. 
  4. Assess the accountability of economic liberalization policies in weakening annual average job creation and adopt strategic policies for agricultural modernization and national industrialization

CPDG also supports the following 15-point labor agenda  presented by workers groups and individual laborers to the ILO-HLTM, which the Marcos Jr. administration should seriously consider: 

  1. Fully realize freedom of association and workers right to security of tenure and end all forms of contractualization of labor and non-standard employment; 
  2. Strengthen and expand collective bargaining; 
  3. Strengthen wage policies, especially for the low wage sectors; 
  4. Implement universal and adequate social security and contributory and non contributory social protection for all; 
  5. Ensure quality public services (health, education, housing, water, power/energy, transportation); 
  6. Protect and support enterprises and workers in the informal sector; 
  7. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and the LGBTQI+ community in the workforce; 
  8. Adopt and implement a resilient, equitable and sustainable development path for communities by integrating climate change and peace and resilience measures into national policies, strategies, and mechanisms; 
  9. Protect the rights and ensure the wellbeing of overseas Filipino workers including undocumented workers; 
  10. Adopt and implement a sustainable industrial policy that combines economic upgrading and social upgrading;
  11. Tax wealth of the super-rich to fund universal social protection and economic recovery;
  12. Strengthen and deepen social dialogue; 
  13. Adopt policies and measures aimed at protecting workers in the digital economy and those that perform work remotely using digital tools and platforms;
  14. Agenda for the future of work, workers, and workers’ power; and
  15. Assert the Philippines’ sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea and ensure the demilitarization in the area.

“Civil society welcomes this long overdue investigation by the ILO HLTM and looks forward to the resolution of the various cases of workers’ rights violations. The right to freedom of association and to organize also extends to all sectors and civic groups including rights defenders and development workers towards the house realization of the Filipino people’s right to meaningful development”, said Porras.#eof#