The Philippines is the most dangerous country for trade unionists in Asia and Pacific. More than 50 unionists were murdered during the tenure of the previous President and not a single perpetrator has been brought to account. The ILO High Level Tripartite Mission has agreed with PSI’s affiliates and other unions that drastic action is needed to address the culture of impunity.
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Since 2019, Philippine trade unions have been campaigning for the ILO High Level Tripartite Mission (HLTM) to investigate extra-judicial killings of trade unionists and other violations of freedom of association in the country. Finally, on January 23-27, 2023, the ILO High Level Tripartite Mission (HLTM), consisting of representatives from Sweden, Australia, and Fiji, came to the Philippines to investigate the complaints filed by trade unions on serious violations of freedom of association (FOA).
A total of 360 cases of violations of FOA were brought before the ILO HLTM by the Philippines affiliates of the Council of Global Unions. These include 16 cases of extra-judicial killings of trade unionists, two cases of forced disappearances, 68 cases of arrests and detention, 90 cases of state interference with the right to self-organization, through threats, harassment, and intimidation and forced disaffiliation; and 58 cases of “red” or terrorist tagging.
Union busting and red tagging in the public sector
Public Services International (PSI) affiliate, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), reported cases of violation of FOA to the ILO HLTM. These include cases of union busting and unfair labor practices of the Philippine National Police (PNP) against the union, Non-Uniform Personnel Association (NUPAI). Sarah Lerum, President of NUPAI, was unjustly dismissed from service twice on allegations of grave misconduct, insubordination, and dishonesty because she led the union to collectively negotiate.
"After two decades of hard organising work, the employees of the PNP finally formed their union and earned the right to be the sole exclusive negotiating agent (SENA). And yet, the PNP management refused to negotiate. Instead, the PNP management red-tagged NUPAI and PSLINK. They also pressured no less than 600 members of the union to withdraw their membership from NUPAI," shared Annie Geron, President of PSLINK and Vice President of PSI Asia Pacific.
PSLINK also brought before the ILO HLTM other complaints of unfair labor practices and union busting in the public sector. These include cases of discrimination against union members, union interference, and non-renewal of employment contracts of workers identified as union members.
Kate Lappin PSI Regional Secretary for Asia Pacific
“We welcome the recommendations of the ILO HLTM in the Philippines, and we will continue to support our affiliates in the Philippines to demand justice for the many murdered unionists and those denied their basic trade union rights."
Mission’s initial findings and recommendations
After talking with the trade unions, government authorities and employers' groups in the country, the ILO HLTM underscored in its initial findings that “very little was done by the government to implement the ILO CAS/CEACR since 2009, 2017 and 2019” as indicated by the “severe and long-standing" cases of extra judicial killings. The mission also observed that tripartite mechanisms and monitoring bodies such as the NTIPC-MB are weak and underfunded.
The mission recommended that a Presidential Commission for Freedom of Association be created to handle all cases of killings and violations of rights. It also echoed other recommendations from the workers group such as the review of the anti- insurgency program to ensure that its implementation does not violate FOA, the enactment of legislation such as the security of tenure for public and private sectors, the implementing law for ILO Convention 151, the end to red-tagging, and the ratification of ILO Convention 190.
“We welcome the recommendations of the ILO HLTM in the Philippines, and we will continue to support our affiliates in the Philippines to demand justice for the many murdered unionists and those denied their basic trade union rights. A functioning democracy and the delivery of quality public services are dependent on trade union rights. The government has given the military, police and bosses the greenlight to kill and harass unionists with impunity. Creating a truth commission, as suggested by the HLTM, is one step towards justice,” Kate Lappin, regional secretary for PSI Asia Pacific said.
The ILO HLTM has set a deadline for the Philippine Government to act on the recommendations and report on the progress before the International Labor Conference this coming June 2023.
Trade unions in the Philippines expressed optimism over mission’s “concrete and specific” recommendations and vowed to stay united to ensure that the recommendations are enforced. “We shall keep our unity broad and strong to follow-up on the recommendations of the mission with clear timelines and outcomes. With our unity, we can effectively fight back and have successful campaigns to immediately address gaps in the implementation of the recommendations,” Geron added.
“Trade union rights are under attack not only in the Philippines but in many parts of the region. The global trade union movement is summoned to continue supporting the campaign to defend trade union rights by denouncing these attacks and supporting affiliates’ organising efforts, which remains as the core strategy to strengthen unions,” Geron said. #