Philippine labor

For 8th straight year, Philippines among 10 worst countries for workers

Michelle Abad

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For 8th straight year, Philippines among 10 worst countries for workers

LABOR DAY. Scores of activists were arrested as chaos mars Labor Day protest after police officers and firefighters block militant groups from marching near the US embassy in Manila on May 1, 2024.

Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) The International Trade Union Confederation points to the persisting threat of violence against Filipino workers and unions

MANILA, Philippines – For the eighth consecutive year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has included the Philippines in its 10 worst countries for workers.

For 8th straight year, Philippines among 10 worst countries for workers

In its 2024 Global Rights Index, the ITUC rated the Philippines with a score of 5, which means “no guarantee of rights.” While there may be laws that spell out certain rights, workers effectively cannot access these rights, and are “exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labor practices.”

On the scale, 1 indicates collective labor rights are generally guaranteed, and 5+ countries similarly have no guarantee of rights as 5-rated countries, but are further aggravated by dysfunctional institutions as a result of internal conflict or military occupation.

The Philippines retained its score of 5 from 2023.

In giving a score of 5, the ITUC said that workers and unions in the Philippines remained to be victims of red-tagging, violence, abductions, and arbitrary arrests, citing the killings of trade union leaders Alex Dolorosa in April 2023, and Jude Thaddeus Fernandez in September 2023.

“The government fostered a climate of fear and persecution, silencing the collective voice of workers. Workers across many sectors still faced significant obstacles when attempting to form trade unions,” the ITUC said.

The ITUC said that while the right to freedom of association is enshrined in the Constitution, it is strictly regulated. Philippine law also prohibits anti-union discrimination, but it fails to provide adequate means of protection against it.

With the Philippines in the list of top 10 worst countries are Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, Tunisia, and Turkiye.

‘A national disgrace’

Joanna Bernice Coronacion, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) deputy secretary general and head of the Philippine workers’ delegation to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) ongoing 112th session of the International Labor Conference (ILC) in Geneva, called the ITUC’s rating a “national disgrace.”

“This persistent failure is not just a statistic; it is a damning indictment of our government’s repeated neglect and disrespect for labor rights,” Coronacion said on Wednesday, June 12.

Coronacion noted that the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is “no different” from that of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, in its “blatant disregard for the welfare of our workers.”

She said the ongoing danger for trade unionists was made possible by Marcos’ unwillingness to dismantle the Duterte-era National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which is the agency leading the campaign on red-tagging, or linking activists, workers, peasant groups, and journalists, among others, to the communist insurgency.

[OPINION] The killings continue. Filipinos must take notice.

[OPINION] The killings continue. Filipinos must take notice.

Dolorosa, a paralegal officer of a business process outsourcing union, and Fernandez’s organization Kilusang Mayo Uno were both red-tagged prior to their killings.

The Supreme Court identified red-tagging as a threat only recently.

“This black mark on our nation’s record threatens to unravel all the investment efforts the Marcos government has been painstakingly courting. Investors are looking for stable, fair, and just environments to place their capital. Our continued poor ranking undermines these efforts and could potentially drive away much-needed economic opportunities,” said Coronacion.

The labor leader also pointed to the accountability of Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, who, she said, has “failed” to empathize with the plight of workers and address their critical needs.

Also in the ILC, the ILO’s Committee on Application of Standards (CAS) noted “with deep concern the ongoing, serious, and systemic violations of the right to freedom of association in the country.”

The CAS urged the Philippines to undertake effective and independent investigations into new allegations of violence against workers, enhance prevention of violence, and ensure that the anti-terrorism law is not being used to restrict legitimate union activities.

The committee gave the Philippine government until September 1 to submit a detailed report to the Committee of Experts on the implementation of its recommendations.

“We urge the government and employers: stop denying the reality of labor rights violations. Stop ignoring the injustices brought about by trade union killings, red-tagging, abductions, surveillance, and other forms of harassment. Let’s work together to take our country out of this shameful list,” said Coronacion. –

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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.