ILO Mission to the Philippines to probe labor violations launched today.

The ILO mission was triggered by a complaint the KMU brought before the ILO’s Committee on the Freedom of Association in 2006.  In the complaint, KMU alleged, “Killings, grave threats, continuous harassment and intimidation and other forms of violence inflicted on leaders, members, organizers, union supporters/labor advocates of trade unions and informal workers' organizations who actively pursue their legitimate demands at the local and national levels.”  Specifically, KMU mentioned the deaths of 64 trade unionist and advocates since Arroyo took power in 2001.  ILRF has also been calling for a high level mission for some time now.  You can see more of the history here and here.

The ILO responded to the Complaints by stating: “The Committee deplores the gravity of the allegations made in this case and the fact that more than a decade after the filing of the last complaint on this issue, inadequate progress has been made by the Government with regard to putting an end to killings, abductions, disappearances and other serious human rights violations which can only reinforce a climate of violence and insecurity and have an extremely damaging effect on the exercise of trade union rights.” 

As a result, the ILO made several recommendations to the Government of the Philippines, including establishing an independent judicial process in order to review all allegations of violence, ending prolonged military presence in the workplace, and ensuring emergency measures enacted by the government don’t interfere with workers legal rights to organize.  Most importantly, it called on the Philippine government to allow it to send a team to look into the complaints and establish more clear recommendations for action. You can read more about the ruling and specific recommendations and complaints here.  Yet, perhaps fearing what the ILO may find, each time the ILO sought permission to send a team to investigate the violations and propose recommendations, the Philippine government refused permission. As a result, the Philippine government has placed in jeopardy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade benefits from the United States under the US trade preference programs, which require that the Philippine government respect internationally recognized workers rights to be eligible for the program. ILRF brought up this point in a compliant filed in connection to the Generalized System of Preferences trade benefits offered to the Philippines.  Facing increasing pressure from the international labor movement and foreign governments at the ILO this summer, the Philippine government finally relented and invited the ILO to conduct its mission according to an ILO report (see page 58).

The ILO Mission, though several years late, is still extremely timely. Labor activist in the Philippines continue to allege government violence and harassment targeted at workers and activist engaged in organizing activities.  KMU alleges that: “After the complaint, 28 more workers were [killed]. Also, a relatively new form of repression hit the workers since last year after the complaint: using trumped up criminal charges to detain workers.”  

The ILO mission marks a tremendous victory for the Philippine labor movement. For over a decade, Philippine trade unions have sought the ILO’s help to bring an end to government violations of Filipino workers’ right to freedom of association. In anticipation of the upcoming ILO mission, many labor groups have rallied to show their support and hope for the mission.  On Monday, Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW), KMU, Alliance for Progressive Labor and other labor organizations held rallies in front of the office of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and then at the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

It is still unclear what results will come from the ILO’s fact finding trip to the Philippines.  A spokeswoman for the ILO said: “The mission is coming here not to say all things are wrong but to find a solution to the problem.”  The presence of the ILO in the Philippines should be looked at as a positive first step towards addressing the labor rights issues that affect the workers there, but there is much more that will need to be done following the ILO Mission.  ILRF has been a vigilant supporter of the rights of Filipino workers and shares their optimism surrounding the mission and hopes that this will create the opportunity for greater protection of workers rights in the Philippines.