Date: Sun, 9 May 1999 22:47:07 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ICFTU Philippines TUCP Organizes Garment Workers In EPZ
Article: 63699
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** 327.0 **/
** Topic: ICFTU Philippines TUCP Organizes Garment Workers In EPZ **
** Written 4:49 AM May 8, 1999 by in **

----------- Begin Forwarded Message -----------
Date: 05/07 10:28 AM
From: Press,
To: ++Online English,

Taking companies at their word

ICFTU Online... 090/990507/LD, 7 May 1999

Codes of conduct are more often than not mere public relations exercises by companies anxious to polish their image in the eyes of public opinion and consumers. The best codes acknowledge all of the fundamental rights of workers including the right to join trade unions and to bargain collectively. Yet much depends on how unions and workers make use of them to organise and to put pressure on companies to keep their word. Here is an example from the Philippines.

Brussels, May 7 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, TUCP, successfully used a code of conduct adopted by a multinational enterprise, for organising a union among 275 workers (all but 47 women) in Monasteria Knitting, Inc. The company operates in the Bataan Export Processing Zone, the country's largest, located in a deprived region 150 km from the capital Manila, and supplies knitwear sweaters to the US and Europe.

Typically, the company resisted the local union from day one, warning workers that its buyers would cancel their contracts if they learned that a union was being organised. This was not a mere threat. The first attempt at organising workers at the Monasteria Knitting Inc. back in 1991 resulted in the company's closure for a year. This time the union decided to take the buyers at their word. Organisers, schooled in codes of conduct by the TUCP, convinced local workers and the management that if buyers, which included the GAP company, learned that Monasteria Knitting was violating their own codes of conduct, they would cancel their contracts with the local supplier. A blitz organising programme which fielded 3-4 organisers, supported by youth and other community groups made the difference. The workers, assured of the effect of codes of conduct, remain loyal to the union throughout three weeks of forced leave, which started the day after the union was registered on February 8. The company reacted angrily: 63 union activists were either transferred or retrenched. But after one week of protest action and a five-day strike last month, Monasteria Knitting eventually backed down and recognised the union, reinstating all dismissed activists.

Organising in the export processing zones is a priority challenge for the TUCP. The TUCP strategy is based on research initiated in 1994 with support from the Brussels-based ICFTU and its Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation (Apro). In a major offensive to win members the union has experimented with a new recruitment tactic. The fact that trade unions are banned in the factories in the export processing zone makes it impossible to recruit at the workplace. We therefore struck on the idea of contacting workers by knocking on their doors at home, outside working hours, Alex Aguilar, the TUC's director of information explains. In 1996-97, TUCP was creating one new trade union a month in the export processing zones. Often by taking employers at their own word.

Export processing zones first appeared in the Philippines in the 1970s, but really mushroomed in the 1980s. Today, 100 such zones exist, 53 of them active, scattered among the many islands of the country. The sums of money invested, export volumes, employment statistics ... every indicator points to the giddying success of this formula. In 1997, investors poured over 159,752 million Philippine pesos into these zones, 144% more than in 1996. It is estimated that about 200,000 workers work in EPZs, most of them young women.