Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 22:56:37 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Philippines: Labour Standards Violated
Article: 78432
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** 334.0 **/
** Topic: Philippines labour Standards Violated **
** Written 10:29 PM Sep 29, 1999 by in **

World Union report condemns Philippines' consistent record of trade union rights violations

ICFTU Online, 179/990928/DD, 28 Septemer 1999

Brussels September 28 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): Government officials in the Philippines are failing to protect trade unions trying to organise workers from massive illegal violations of basic workers' rights. That is the conclusion of a trade union report on labour standards in the Philippines, published to coincide with the WTO's trade policy review of the Philippines.

Rights to Organise and to Bargain severely curtailed The report describes how, although the Philippines has ratified ILO Convention 87 (on Freedom of Association) there are endless hurdles for those who wish to organise trade unions to prevent workers from being exploited.

The worst violations occur in the countries' burgeoning export processing zones, special zones, and regional industrial centres, where around 175,000 people are at work. Here no union, no strike policies are enforced by foreign investors, local government officials and zone administrators. So strong is companies' hatred of unions that they intimidate the workforce, dismiss and blacklist union leaders who try to organise, and would rather leave the zones than allow unions. Unfortunately workers get no support from the Department of Labour which is either unwilling or unable to enforce the labour law.

The report tells how young women working in these zones are continually harassed. For example, in the Cavite processing zone near Manila, the 37,000 young women workers (who make up 75% of the workforce) have to sign a document agreeing to be sacked if they get married. They must work forced overtime in poor conditions, and frequently develop respiratory problems from inhaling chemicals and dust. Many companies pay well below the minimum wage, delay maternity and other social security payments and ignore health and safety regulations. Some zones, for example, the Subic Bay special EPZ has been declared union free and a Labor Center set up to promote in-house company unions. All zones are guarded, and guards routinely prevent government inspectors from entering.

A further problem faced by workers is the increasing use of contract (i.e. temporary, or part-time) working, where workers have no job security or trade union rights.

Workers' rights to strike are severely restricted, despite the country's ratification of ILO Convention 98. In the private sector the Secretary of Labour can order strikers back to work if she or he thinks the strike is against the national interest, as happened when pilots from Philippine Airlines (PAL) (a notoriously anti-union company) went on strike in June 1998 over plans to force pilots over 45 to retire. They were forced back to work after four days.

Union officials can be dismissed and imprisoned for up to three years for taking part in illegal strikes. For example in 1995 striking pickets at the Telefunken Semiconductor plant near Manila were violently dispersed and dismissed, and the management has so far ignored the Secretary of Labour's orders to reinstate them. Violence to disperse strikers is unfortunately fairly routine. In September 1998, striking bus company workers were injured when security guards dispersed a strike with batons and gunshot. In one particularly bad incident at the Japanese-owned Manila Diamond Hotel, security guards attacked trade unionists who were on strike, while police looked on. The police arrested the strikers after the guards had finished beating them up.


Although the government has ratified ILO Conventions 100 and 111 against discrimination at work, women face considerable discrimination. On average their salary is 47% of their male counterparts, and women are principally found in lower paying and lower-skilled jobs. They are also the main workforce in the export processing zones, where as well as low wages, and lack of union protection, sexual harassment by managers is common. Because many of these women are economic migrants from other parts of the Philippines, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Indigenous people, who make up 18% of the population, are also in a vulnerable position, both in terms of lacking basic services, health and education, and because of the encroachment of mining companies on their lands. The Rio Tinto Zinc Company has been strongly criticised for ignoring opposition from the Subanen tribe to plans to mining their lands. Although the 1997 Indigenous Peoples' Act was meant to protect their rights, there has been strong opposition from mining and agribusiness interests to its implementation.

Child and Bonded labour

Although the Philippines ratified ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age, and the Philippines' own law prohibits children under 15 from working, an estimated 3.7 million children are employed in the informal sector. The ICFTU report tells how there are up to 60,000 children in the sex industry, and many others are employed on the docks unloading very heavy bags of cement or fertiliser, being paid much less than adults doing the same work.

In rural areas, many children work on sugar and banana plantations. Although in theory bonded labour is prohibited in the Philippines, over 300,000 children are working illegally as domestic servants. Many are recruited from poor rural areas, and are working in conditions of servitude to pay off a loan advanced to their parents. There are more children working on farms which use underage labour, in similar conditions of bondage.


The ICFTU says that the Philippines government must work with the ILO to strengthen its provisions to enable all workers to join trade unions, and to prevent unscrupulous employers stopping workers organising, as well as working to prevent discrimination, child and bonded labour.

In the light of the forthcoming WTO Conference in Seattle, the ICFTU says that the WTO should draw the attention of the Philippine authorities to the commitment they made at the previous two WTO Ministerial meetings to respect core labour standards.

Note: The ICFTU will be present at the Seattle Ministerial, where it will be arguing the case for linking labour standards and trade to prevent further exploitation of workers.