Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Philippines

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Philippines, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

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The Philippines ratified the International Labour Organization's Convention 87 in 1953, legally guaranteeing freedom of association and the right to organize. Trade unions are independent, and they may align with international labor groups. To achieve formal registration, a union must represent at least 20 percent of a given bargaining unit. In recent years, large firms have stepped up the use of contract workers, who are prohibited from joining unions. Only about 5 percent of the labor force is unionized, including some 20 percent of public employees.

Collective bargaining is common, and strikes are legal, though unions must provide notice and obtain majority approval from their members. The Labor Department reportedly often invokes an "assumption of jurisdiction" clause during strikes, citing the national interest, which can lead to a strike being declared illegal.

There is some dispute over the observance of labor rights in the country's 41 privately owned and four government-owned special economic zones (SECs). Legally, the rights to organize and bargain collectively apply in these zones, yet workers complain about an unwritten "no union, no strike" policy that the government upholds.

Violence against labor leaders has increased as part of a spike in extrajudicial killings of leftists in recent years, and military threats against union leaders continue to be documented. Various labor and farmers' organizations dedicated to ending extrajudicial killings and helping families of the disappeared face significant threats in the course of their work. In the fall of 2009, members of the military were believed to have raided the Cebu offices of the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR). Another left-wing labor group, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement), claimed that its officials and members were subject to government attacks.

In response to the rise in violence and after two years of stalled invitations, the International Labour Organization (ILO) sent a high-level team to the Philippines in September 2009 to investigate cases of worker abductions, harassment, killings, and threats. In October, the ILO urged the government to further investigate the disappearances and killings of union leaders and to quickly establish a high-level interagency body to monitor conditions. Workers' groups count nearly 90 abductions or killings since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office in 2001, whereas government statistics put the number at 35. The ILO has also called on the government to ensure that workers' rights are equally applied and enjoyed in the SECs.

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