Philippine labor

Labor groups seek better protection in freedom to associate

Michelle Abad

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Labor groups seek better protection in freedom to associate

STATE OF LABOR. Labor groups under the All Philippine Trade Unions alliance hold a 'State of Labor Address' on July 19, 2023, ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s State of the Nation Address on July 24.


Ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s 2nd SONA, labor groups seek the inclusion of workers' and employers' representation in a presidential commission on freedom of association

MANILA, Philippines – Ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA), labor groups called on Wednesday, July 19, for stronger protection of their freedom to associate.

In an event they called “State of Labor Address,” an alliance of labor groups called the All Philippine Trade Unions (APTU) called to amend or replace Marcos’ Executive Order No. 23 to include an inclusive presidential commission on freedom of association.

This commission must include tripartite representation from the government, labor, and employer sectors. 

EO No. 23, signed in January, establishes the Inter-Agency Committee for the Freedom of Association and Right to Organize of Workers. While this includes representations from the departments of labor, justice, interior, defense, and trade, as well as the National Security Council and the Philippine National Police, there are no seats for workers or employers.

Ang pinakaimportanteng karapatan na dapat i-address ng ating gobyerno sa ating kasalukyan ay ang karapatang mag-organisa. ‘Yung freedom to associate and the right to collectively bargain. Pinaka-basic na karapatan ito, sapagkat kung hindi ito ma-exercise ng manggagawa, inutil din ang iba pang karapatan,” said Rene Magtubo, national chair of Partido Manggagawa.

(The most important right that our government should address at this point in time is the right to organize. The freedom to associate and the right to collectively bargain. This is the most basic right – if workers cannot exercise this, other rights are deemed useless.)

“If you do not have a union, how will you collectively bargain? A worker cannot bargain alone. If you have no union, how will you strike? Can you strike alone? What about representation on matters pertaining to welfare, in the government and to employers?” Magtubo added in Filipino.

APTU noted in a statement that ensuring tripartite representation in a commission would help the Philippines’ comply with the International Labor Organization High-Level Tripartite Mission recommendations released in January.

Why this matters: Reports of red-tagging, violence, extrajudicial killings, harassment and suppression of trade union rights have plagued the Philippine labor sector amid workers’ assertion of their right to associate and voice out their concerns.

In the ILO HLTM’s conclusions and recommendation report, it said, “While some progress may be observed in recent years, it considers that this remains largely insufficient in view of the very serious issues which have been raised to and by the ILO supervisory bodies over an extended period.”

“The HLTM observes in particular that despite the repeated assurances from the Government that the State did not have a policy of red-tagging, this was belied by the broad statements made by some of the government agencies repeatedly referring to connections between the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) and workers and their collective representation, including harking back to the 1974 CPP manifesto,” it added.

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Magtubo said that the composition of a presidential commission should be tripartite, “so that they can discuss on a holistic manner how to address the prevalent extrajudicial killings, red-tagging, harassment, and killings of labor organizers.”

In signing EO No. 23 on April 30, Marcos acknowledged such reports of violence and red-tagging. He created the inter-agency committee to “further foster the exercise of the workers’ freedom of association and the rights organize and to bargain with full regard to human, civil, political, economic, and social rights and liberties.”

Marcos’ SONA on Monday, July 24, will tackle his administration’s legislative agenda, which highlights the government’s priorities.

The International Trade Union Confederation included the Philippines in the top 10 worst countries for workers in 2023, citing violence against and arrests of trade unionists, and union busting. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.