MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) A high-level team from the International Labor Organization heard on Wednesday complaints and testimonies about murders of trade union leaders and labor rights advocates, as well as violations of workers’ rights in the country straight from about 30 workers’ groups.
The three-member team held a forum and several hearings during two sessions held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the RCBC Plaza auditorium in Makati City. The proceedings were closed to media; the team earlier said it would hold a press briefing on Sept. 30 to reveal their findings.
The ILO high level team will be doing its work from Sept. 22 to 29. Its members are Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, director of the ILO's International Labor Standards Department; her deputy Karen Curtis, who is responsible for Freedom of Association; and Tim de Meyer, international labor standards specialist at the ILO Subregional Office for East Asia in Bangkok, Thailand.
In the morning session, various labor leaders—either leftists, moderates or pro-government—presented their general outlook of how workers’ freedom of association has been ensured and protected in the Philippines.
The afternoon and early evening sessions were devoted to the eight labor cases that were first brought to the ILO’s attention in 2007. This included the case of the workers at Toyota Philippines in Laguna, Dusit Hotel in Makati City and Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
The team also listened to relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings, victims of enforced disappearances and union harassment and other witnesses.
The hearing, which was closed to media coverage, started at around 8 a.m. with leaders of more than a dozen labor groups making their presentations on unionism and labor organizing in the country in relation to the ILO Convention No. 87, which protects workers' right to organize.
Partido ng Manggagawa (Workers’ Party) chair Renato Magtubo, who made his presentation shortly before noon, said the members of the team “were after facts, details and specifics” on violations of the workers’ freedom of association, which has been enshrined in the ILO Convention No. 87 that the Philippines ratified in the 1950s.
The former congressman brought to the team’s attention the harassment of unionists and curtailment of the right to organize in Cebu's Mactan Economic Zone.
He cited the case of the newly formed Alta Mode Workers Union, whose formation has been allegedly hindered by the management of the Alta Mode factory, a garments export firm in Mactan City that subcontracts for Abercrombie & Fitch and Adidas, among other multinational corporations.
The formation of the union was put to a vote on Sept. 7 but the employers allegedly forced the interim union officials to go on leave the same day. The result of the election was contested because management employees participated in the vote.
Four days later, the factory went on a six-month temporary shutdown. The workers went on strike but had difficulty staging a picket at the factory gates since, as jobless persons, they were not allowed inside the MEZ complex.
Magtubo also reported the labor situation at the Philippine Air Lines, in which the job security of 2,000 rank and file workers fear has been threatened by the management’s spinoff plans.
“We regard this as a big opportunity for the labor sector, to have an international body hear about the labor situation as experienced by the workers,” Magtubo later told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview.
On the other hand, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May One Movement) presented to the team several relatives of victims of extra-judicial killings and other witnesses to demonstrate claims of trade union repression in the country.
KMU was one of the groups that filed complaints about labor rights violations with the ILO in 2007. The ILO later proposed the sending of an investigating team but it was only in June this year that the Philippine government agreed to host one.
One of the cases presented by KMU was that of Armando Dolorosa, vice chair of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Manapla, Negros Occidental, who was shot dead in front of his family in their house by two persons wearing ski-masks on June 6, 2008.
The autopsy report showed that he had 20 gunshot wounds caused by an M16 rifle.
The KMU and the NFSW claimed Dolorosa was killed by the paramilitary forces of Hacienda Myrianne owners because he was an active leader of NFSW, which has been campaigning for higher wages and benefits for sugar workers.
KMU chair Elmer Labog, in a statement, said they presented facts and testimonies that would "concretize a nationwide pattern of attacks versus trade unions and labor leaders.”
“We will make sure that the investigating panel will look into the string of government policies in place to demonize and liquidate unions, specifically Oplan Bantay Laya I and II,” he added.
Labog added that the police and military have been vilifying unions by tagging leaders and members as "terrorists" and communists." This, he said, was also in violation of Convention 87.
He said in Cebu, the photos of 30 active members of the Anita’s Home Bakeshop Workers Union, which federated under KMU, were posted on the company bulletin board and labeled as “troublemakers” and “a terrorist group.”
A rally was even held against the union at the labor department by the anti-communist partylist group Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (ANAD) in connivance with the management, according to the KMU. Leaflets were distributed tagging the AHBWU as a “communist organization.” Placards carried by ANAD also called for the scrapping of the union’s registration.
In Antipolo, Rizal, Labog said the military’s 16th Infantry Battalion transformed a day-care center near a Gokongwei-owned piggery farm into a military encampment and has launched an anti-union educational campaign.
He said members of the 16th IB recently visited the houses of officers of the local union in Robina Farm, threatening their lives if they were found to be members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.
In Compostela Valley, members of the 28th Infantry Battalion held assembly meetings in August 2005 inside the packing plants of the Fresh Banana Plantation, telling workers not to participate in the local union Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa San Jose (NAMASAN). The 28th IB also discouraged workers from joining unions federated under KMU.
“Witnesses and co-workers of victims hope the ILO representatives will recommend the prosecution of members of government agencies who took part in the attacks against trade unions,” Labog said.
The KMU was hopeful that ILO would recommend the necessary political and economic sanctions against the Arroyo administration for “clearly” violating international and local labor laws.
The moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, meanwhile, focused on various reforms that the executive and legislative departments could do in order to bolster the protection of workers’ rights to organize.
The TUCP paper presented to the team, a copy of which was provided to the INQUIRER, stated that many principles enshrined in Convention 87 have yet to be realized under a 2007 law, Republic Act No. 9481, which amended provisions of the Labor Code of the Philippines governing labor organization.
The TUCP recommended the following:
* That new rules restricting the formation of unions be reviewed or scrapped. It also observed that union officers still risked “undue harassment” by employers while they were submitting their charter certificates and supporting documents for setting up a union. But the TUCP pointed out that Article 2 of Convention 87, provided that the right to establish labor groups shall be without previous authorization, including that of the government.
* That the Department of Labor and Employment’s power to assume jurisdiction over labor disputes be defined. The Labor Code allows intervention in companies engaged in “essential services,” but TUCP said these should only be limited to electric and water companies and hospitals.
* That the policies on dismissing unionists, regulation of the election of union officers, and the prohibition for unions to accept foreign assistance without the government’s consent, be reviewed.
* That the guidelines on the conduct of police and military personnel and private security units be strictly applied so as not to disrupt union activities.
* That ILO assist in delineating labor-related killings from those not related to labor activities.
* That the Philippine government come up with a formal mechanism for consultation and dialogue with trade unions to address the problem of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and human rights violations.
* That the effects of the Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, and the impact of contractualization, outsourcing and the flexible work arrangements due to the global crisis be studied.