Labor reforms

“It is the policy of my Administration to pursue a whole-of-government approach to advancing worker empowerment and organizing, workers’ rights, and labor standards globally.” – US President Joe Biden’s Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally issued on 16 November 2023.

Representatives of Philippine Labor, namely TUCP, SENTRO, FFW, PSLINK, and BIEN, had a meaningful candid meeting with the United States Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo who leads the first-ever Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to be dispatched by US President Joe Biden to the Philippines. This is in light of the US Government’s Global Labor Strategy and Worker-Centered Trade that tie up labor rights to trade and investment that should create decent, regular, and good-paying jobs for our people.

Philippine Labor briefed Secretary Raimondo on the pandemic of precarious work without security of tenure, without living wages, and without the full and free exercise of fundamental labor rights in the country. When Filipino workers exercise their fundamental right to organize and to collectively bargain to demand better terms and conditions of work, the January 2023 ILO High-Level Tripartite Mission noted the rampant freedom of association violations and violence through red-tagging and worst, killings of trade unionists.

In response, Secretary Raimondo stated that she is “very concerned” about the problematic state of the Philippine labor rights situation. She committed to raising these issues affecting Filipino workers and unionists, ranging from red-tagging to extra-judicial killings, to the relevant American companies. These include the imperative to end the rampant violation of freedom of association of American brands and locators in the Philippines wherein a union-averse company can transfer their production and orders anytime and anywhere to bust unions, sending a chilling effect to labor organizing now and in the future.

To end this race-to-the-bottom towards globally competitive trade and investment, Philippine Labor outlined key demands stemming from the recommendations of the ILO namely:

  1. Add workers’ representation in the E.O. 23 Inter-Agency Committee on Freedom of Association;
  2. Certify urgent by the President and immediately pass long-pending priority labor legislation on freedom of association to make it easier to form unions, limit assumption of jurisdiction power of the Labor Secretary, and remove dismissal and imprisonment as penalty for illegal strike;
  3. Elevate the existing Guidelines for Freedom of Association in Economic Zones into an Executive/Presidential Order to ensure full effective enforcement;
  4. Increase the budget of the Commission on Human Rights to investigate freedom of association violations towards justice.

Secretary Raimondo underscored US President Biden’s commitment to place workers front and center by promoting trade unionism and advancing worker-centered trade policies. Under the overarching vision of the Biden Administration for worker-centered trade, Secretary Raimondo discussed the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) with emphasis on firm commitment to fundamental labor rights and core labor standards. The establishment of a Tripartite Labor Rights Advisory Board to identify and address labor rights violations is part and parcel of IPEF. This is anchored on the belief that international trade and national prosperity are not brought about by cheap labor, but rather, compliance with our international human rights and labor rights commitments and obligations.

In his State of the Union Address, President Biden stated that “The middle class built this country! And unions built the middle class!” It is in this same spirit that the Philippine labor movement calls on the US Government to hold the Philippines to account towards ensuring tangible action to fully realize all the recommendations of the ILO and addressing all violations of workers’ fundamental labor rights to freedom of association, as a condition for access to the US GSP and IPEF.

The Philippine labor movement looks forward to Secretary Raimondo’s commitment to upholding fundamental labor rights and safeguarding the dignity of each and every worker towards inclusive and sustainable trade and growth between America and the Philippines and the entire Indo-Pacific region.

Journal Online
A collection of noteworthy information on various topics from the Philippines and the rest of the world.