Stop the Total War Against Trade Unions, End the Flawed Cheap Labor Policy

The Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) welcomes the ILO High Level Mission to the Philippines. After being blocked for two years, efforts of trade unions in the country, as well as abroad, finally succeeded in forcing the Philippine government reverse course and agree to accept the mission.

“A total war against trade unions have been going on for many years now,” Daniel L. Edralin, APL Chairperson, said. “We believe that the ILO High Level Mission will go a long way in exposing the roots of the repressive labor relations in the country,” he added.

The APL, together with other member organizations of Kowalisyon Kontra Kontraktwalisasyon (KONTRA), is determined to prove to the ILO High Level Mission that the rampant violations of workers’ fundamental rights to organize, collectively bargain and to strike, are part of the State’s systematic efforts to stifle legitimate dissent and to suppress trade unionism.

“Repression has an economic function – to maintain the cheap labor policy that comes with the flawed export-oriented development promoted by the country’s political and economic elites since the time of the Marcos dictatorship,” Edralin said.

Democratic trade unions are committed not only to ensure that the working people would have their fair share of the fruits of their labor, but more importantly, to guarantee that workers’ civil and political rights, including their right to have a say in the country’s affairs, are exercised. “This makes trade unions the natural enemies of unscrupulous employers and anti-democratic governments like the Arroyo regime,” Edralin said.

The repressive labor relations is maintained by an anachronistic Labor Code that was imposed by the Marcos dictatorship in 1974 not so much to guarantee workers’ rights but to circumscribe it. It is the last vestiges of Martial Law.

Thus, more than two decades after the fall of the Marcos Dictatorship, workers once again find themselves persecuted whenever they start exercising their constitutional rights. And if they continue to persist, they are brutally silenced by the guns of state and non-state actors.

In addition, trade unionists cannot even rely on the legal system. “There is a complete breakdown of the labor relations legal at all levels,” Edralin lamented.

According to a consolidated report to be submitted by the KONTRA to the ILO High Level Mission:

“The length of time and the costs involved in pursuing labor justice are simply too much for the worker to bear, forcing the worker to accept a compromise agreement – if and when the employer makes such an offer. The chances of actually winning are slim; the chances of having the claim executed are even slimmer.”

Even the Supreme Court appears to be part of the problem. Apart of issuing “judicial legislations” that undermines workers’ and trade union rights, it also has also recognized the legality of contractualization, reversing the basic doctrines that they themselves laid down previously. One of the most controversial “judicial legislation” issued by the SC was the so-called “Velasco Decision” on the Dusit Case where the Court ruled that shaving of heads constitutes a strike action. This expanded definition of what constitute a strike makes the workers’ actions, such as wearing black armbands that are considered part of their freedom of expression, vulnerable to being declared as illegal strikes.

To make matters worst, some trade unions, with the prodding of anti-union employers, are tagged by the military as enemies of the state and are therefore included in their counter insurgency campaigns.

As a result, the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements has declined from more than 500,000 five years ago to only 226,000 workers today.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of workers do not enjoy security of tenure, the minimum labor standards nor even the minimum wages. This is one of the major reasons why the country continues to have a widening gap between the rich and poor.

“Government should wage a war against poverty, not against trade unions. To end poverty, the government has end its total war against trade unions, abandon the failed cheap labor policy and completely reform the Labor Code to provide solid guarantees for workers’ and trade union rights,” Edralin said.

“Obviously, an elite-dominated government would not readily abandon a system that has proven to be so profitable for them. This is a job that only the workers can do. After all, only workers can liberate their fellow workers,” Edralin declared.

KONTRA is composed of APL, BMP, CIU, KPMP, MAKABAYAN, PM, PSLINK and many other unions that have banded together to fight contractualization and the abusive use of assumption of jurisdiction.

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