Population: 88,600,000
Capital: Manila
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The lack of fundamental rights to engage in trade union activities without fear of employer and government intimidation and reprisal kept the Philippines under scrutiny by international trade union bodies and human rights organisations. Compared to 2007, the situation in the Philippines deteriorated. Four trade union officials were shot and killed by unknown assassins and the military intimidated and harassed union officials. The authorities continued frustrating worker attempts to form unions and arrested union officials. The Philippines was criticised by the ILO for not having taken any steps to eradicate violence against trade unionists.

Trade union rights in law

The Philippine Constitution provides that the State shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self organisation, collective bargaining and negotiations, and peaceful and concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with the law. It also protects other civil liberties.

Freedom of association: The Labour Code recognises the right of Filipino nationals to form and join trade unions. Public servants, with the exception of the military and police, are allowed to exercise trade union rights. However, managerial employees, prison staff and firefighters are denied the right. The ILO has repeatedly requested that the government amend the law to ensure that anyone legally residing in the country is able to benefit from trade union rights as provided under Convention No. 87.

Obstacles to trade union activity: An independent union (not affiliated to a federation) must represent at least 20% of the workers of a given collective bargaining entity in order to register. Unions that are members of federations must provide various documents for registration, but this exposes their leaders to possible employer retaliation at a critical stage in a union's formation. The minimum membership requirement for a public employees union to gain legal personality is 30% of the total rank and file employees. Such a high threshold is likely to preclude the establishment of trade unions, and the ILO Committee of Experts has requested the government to lower this requirement to a reasonable level.

Before a federation or national centre can be created, at least ten collective bargaining agreements must have been registered by its member unions. Trade union leaders must be employed in the same enterprise as the workers they represent. Foreign nationals may not establish or join a trade union unless there is a reciprocal agreement between their respective countries and the government of the Philippines.

Significant barriers in exercising the right to strike: The right to strike for private sector workers is recognised under Philippine law. In order to obtain permission to strike, a trade union is required to give advance notice, respect mandatory cooling off periods and obtain the agreement of a majority (50% plus one vote) of its members. All avenues of conciliation must have been exhausted. If the Secretary of Labour and Employment considers that the industry concerned by the strike is "indispensable to the national interest", the Secretary can impose compulsory arbitration and compel the workers to return to work. This is a broad power which enables the government to intervene in disputes involving sectors which extend considerably beyond the scope of essential services as defined by ILO conventions. The Labour Secretary also has the power to deputise the police and the military to enforce a return-to-work order under the Assumption of Jurisdiction Order. In addition, the President of the Philippines can unilaterally determine the industries that, in his/her opinion, are indispensable to the national interest. Under this broad power, the President can directly assume jurisdiction over any labour dispute in order to settle or order workers to return to work.

The law prescribes heavy penalties for participation in an illegal strike. Trade union leaders are liable to prison terms of up to three years. Anyone who organises or directs any "meeting for the purpose of spreading propaganda against the government" is liable to life imprisonment. The term "meeting" covers picketing during a strike.

Strikes are banned in the public sector.

Abandoning labour inspection in favour of voluntary compliance: The Labour Standards Enforcement Framework essentially abandons the principle of government labour inspection for workplaces with more than 200 workers. Instead of a formal labour inspection, the order requires self-regulation of labour standards among large companies (to be undertaken at least once a year by an employer-worker committee of uncertain provenance, according to a government-issued checklist), and in companies where there is a union that has registered a CBA. Following the inspection, the completed checklist must be mailed back to the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) for evaluation.

Contract workers prohibited from joining unions: Under law, workers classified as "contract" workers are not allowed to become members of a union. The law sets out a number of clear conditions limiting use of contract workers – including limits on the duration of the contract and not allowing such workers to perform the functions of regular employees – but those conditions are commonly ignored by employers. Article 248 (c) states that it is an unfair labour practice for an employer to contract out services or functions being performed by union members when such will interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights to self-organisation.

The Human Security Act classifies a wide range of crimes as terrorist acts if they are committed to "create a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand". Mandatory sentences are set at 40 years without possibility of parole for terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism, and similarly heavy penalties are created for lesser crimes. There are significant concerns by human rights organisations and trade unionists that overly broad language in the law leaves it open to abuse by local police and judicial authorities. Arrests without warrants are allowed, and indefinite detention is made possible in instances where authorities find there is an "actual or imminent terrorist attack."

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

During 2008, 218 new cases of trade union and human rights violations involving 68,829 individuals were reported. The figure is 26% higher than in 2007.

Four trade unionists killed/one attempted murder: Labour union leader Gerry Cristobal was shot and killed in Cavite province on 10 March. Cristobal was the former president of the union in the Japanese semiconductor firm EMI-Yazaki and was serving as a union official in the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) union at the time of his death. Cristobal was the subject of two previous assassination attempts, in 2006 and 2007.

Other trade unionists killed include Armando Dolorosa, Vice President of the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW); Maximo Baranda, former Chairperson of Compostela Workers Association (CWA), a KMU affiliate; Arnold C. Cerdo, Vice-President of Sensous Union Labour Organization-Independent (SULO) and a staff member of the Cabuyao Workers Alliance. No one has been arrested in connection with these incidents.

Abduction and torture: On 4 January, agents from the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) abducted, interrogated, and tortured Melvin Yares, the president of Kahugpungan sa Kabus sa Basak (KAKABAS), a group of informal workers in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. Yares was able to escape from his captors.

Trade unionists arrested: Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Chief Legal Counsel Remigio Saladero Jr. was arrested by the police on 23 October, on numerous counts of alleged murder in connection with the 2006 bombings of a telephone relay site in Puerto Galera, Mindoro. Saladero was also falsely charged with arson and inciting to rebellion in connection with the bombing of another telephone relay site in Lemery, Batangas. Other trade union officials arrested under the same charges included: Arnaldo Seminiano, 44, an organiser for the Ilaw at Buklod-Manggagawa-Kilusang Mayo Uno (IBM-KMU); Emmanuel Deonida, 42, Executive Director of Labour Education Advocacy Development Response Services (LEADER); and Jeepney drivers' union leader, Nestor San Jose. At the end of 2008, all four were in prison on the island of Mindoro, where they are awaiting their hearings.

Other union officials and labour activists named in the charges, but not arrested, included Romeo Legaspi and Luz Baculo, President and General Secretary of the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK-KMU) respectively; Romeo Revilla, Magnolia Corp. worker and union official; Henry Halawig, OLALIA-KMU paralegal staff; Garizaldy Constantino, Anakpawis campaign officer and former KMU campaign officer; and Emmanuel Asuncion, former chair of the SCW.

Threats: On 11 February, the President and CEO of Chiyoda Philippines Integre, Inc.,located in Barangay Diezmo, Laguna, threatened to shoot about 24 Chiyoda workers who demonstrated at the company gates to demand that he abide by an earlier agreement to reinstate 52 dismissed workers.

At the beginning of June, soldiers from the Philippines' Army began threatening trade union officials and workers at the International Wiring System (IWS), located inside the Special EPZ in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac City. In an incident on 7 June, soldiers confronted Dexter Datu, IWSWU President, and threatened him and his family. The IWSWU lodged a complaint with the ILO over the threats. In October, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) accepted the complaint.

Dismissal of union officials: Florentino Beghanilum, Edmundo Velonero, and Peregrino Banguis, union officials with the Asosasyon sa mga Mamumuo sa Dole Alang sa Kalinaw Demokratikong Nasud (NAFLU-KMU), were sacked by Dole Philippine, Inc. (Dolefil) on 21-22 January. The union filed charges with the National Labour Relations Commission (NLRC) over the dismissals. The final outcome of the case is not known.

The DCWD union president, Rodrigo Aranjuez, was sacked by the General Manager of the Davao City Water District (DCWD) on 19 March. 36 other DCWD workers were also suspended for two months on charges of violating administrative rules by wearing tee-shirts with slogans demanding the payment of overdue benefits and the resignation of one of the members of the Water District's board.

Harassment and surveillance: Footjoy Industrial Corporation workers and members of the United Association of Footjoy were interrogated in March by soldiers from the Philippines' Army based in Cruz Barangay Hall, Guiguinto, Bulacan, about the activities of their union president, Mercy Santomin. Union members were forced to make false statements about the nature of their union activities.

Violent dispersal and arrest of union demonstrators: Twenty-one workers were injured by the police picketing Hanjin Garments Inc., a garment factory in Cabuyao, Laguna, on 25 January. Police also arrested three Hanjin Garments workers, Christopher Capistrano, Erica Lee Balane, Edison Alpiedam, and a Sensuous Lingerie worker, Gerald Daria, on charges of assaulting police. On 7 February, the four were arraigned at the Biñan Regional Trial Court and then released after posting bail. The final outcome of the case is not known.

Police attacked a group of 500 demonstrators from a labour alliance composed of the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog (PAMANTIK-KMU), political party Anakpawis and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Southern Tagalog) at the DOLE office in Intramuros, Manila, on 6 March. 37 protestors were injured in the police action. Police arrested six demonstrators, including Jason Hega, Emmanuel Dioneda and Jay Abahn, and took them to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Manila, where they were charged with violating the Public Assembly Act of 1985 and the Revised Penal Code (RPC) for disturbing public order and for direct assaults to persons in authority. After being arraigned, the six were released for further investigation. The outcome of the case is not known. One of the injured demonstrators, Kadamay, died several weeks later.

Frustration of workers' right to union representation: Over 100 port workers in Dumaguete who are members of the Associated Labour Union-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) began a strike against Prudential Customs and Brokerage Services, Inc. (PCBSI) over the company's failure to hire all the workers of the previous port operator on 13 March. On 28 March, the National Labour Relations Commission (NLRC) ordered the union to cease its 'illegal' picketing activities. The day after, four workers were injured when police attempted to disperse workers who continued to picket. The workers returned to work on 24 April after PCBSI agreed to rehire all the former workers under the same terms and conditions of employment prior to the labour dispute and to recognise the union.

50 workers were sacked on 24 July by Bleustar Manufacturing and Marketing Corporation (BMMC) located in Wilmark 2 RMT Industrial Complex, Tunasan, Muntinlupa City, one day before the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) was due to hold a certification election for the Bleustar Workers Labour Union (BWLU). DOLE refused to consider the ballots cast by 43 of the dismissed workers, and the election was lost. On 12 July, Bleustar attempted to remove machines from the factory in an action the union believed to be an attempt to close the company prior to the election. Sixty workers blocked the company's gate to prevent the removal of the machinery. The company suspended 59 of the 60 workers as a result of the demonstration.

At least 65 workers who were scheduled to vote in a union certification election on 10 September were sacked on 30-31 August, at Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company in Mankayan, Benguet. Those sacked included leaders of the newly organised Shipside Incorporated Employees Union (SEU). The final outcome of this case is not known.

Trade union activities were listed as a valid reason for dismissal in standard contracts for migrant workers by the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). Migrant trade unionists were liable for paying for their repatriation. On 26 November this offensive language was removed after a campaign by UNI and Public Services International (PSI).

Pending issues: In April, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) concluded that retaliatory employment measures taken against Annie Geron, General Secretary of PSLINK (a PSI affiliate), and other PSLINK members for bringing charges of misappropriation of funds against government officials at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in 2007 were related to their trade union membership.

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