Friday, June 16, 2023

APTU Statement in the Decision of the ILO Committee on Application of Standards (ILO CAS)

Committee on Application of Standards of ILO Urges PH Govt to take "Decisive and Effective" Action on ILO Convention 87 Compliance Measures; Significant Economic Repercussions Loom; ILO sets Sept 1 Deadline for Upgraded Compliance Report

June 15, 2023 – The Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) of the International Labour Conference (ILC)  headquartered in Geneva effectively rebuffed the Philippine Government compliance report addressing  the earlier recommendations of the ILO HIGH LEVEL TRIPARTITE MISSION to Manila that took place on January 23-26, 2023.

 The CAS sent the Government back to the drawing board, as it expressed "deep concern on the numerous allegations of murders of trade unionists, systemic violations of the right to freedom of association as well as lack of investigation". Further, the CAS sharply pointed out the "failure of the Government to submit a joint implementation plan" with workers and employers, as recommended by the High-level Mission, with the clear implication that the Government submission was both unilateral and not tripartite.

Considering the Philippines is in the CAS "shortlist" of countries indicative of the possible gravest violations on freedom of association, the decision of the CAS bears grave implications for the larger interests of the Philippine nation, our economy, and efforts to restore and renew key trade preferences with the United States and Europe under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and GSP+ respectively, as well as free trade agreements with those two economies.

Successful compliance with these ILO recommendations, particularly in relation to the observance of ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, is directly tied to these major international objectives. The potential gain from such compliance is significant - providing tariff-free access for about 9,000 Philippine product lines to the U.S. and European markets, attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), and creating hundreds of thousands of decent job opportunities for Filipinos. 

Just yesterday, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. announced the launching of the Philippine Export Development Plan (2023 - 2028), targetting the creation of one million new and decent jobs, by doubling and tripling Philippine exports.  The  unequivocal rejection by the CAS of the DOLE compliance report now raises serious questions on how these employment targets will be met as the key determinant to entry of Foreign Direct Investments to the Philippines is our acccession to tariff-free access to the American and European markets. With the failure of DOLE to obtain a positive finding on Philippine compliance with ILO C87, the matter of the Philippines meriting accession to the GSP and Free Trade Agreements with the US and the EU is now fully in doubt.

This will be a serious setback to Philippine job creation and the All Philippine Trade Union (APTU) delegation in Geneva, including the affiliates of the  International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), namely the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), the  Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) expressed disappointment with the response of the DOLE in Geneva,as the focal agency of the Philippine Government, as falling far short of the mark set by both by the workers and the ILO HLTM.

Far from achieving an international seal of good housekeeping, the Philippine Government was instructed by CAS to re-engage with Workers and Employers to ensure compliance through "decisive and effective measures to promote a climate of non-violence", emphasized the need for the Government to "put an  immediate end to any act of violence and intimidation against union members for the legitimate exercise of their rights", which includes the unabated red-tagging of trade union activists by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC); and make a new submission to the ILO CAS by September 1, 2023.

The DOLE has much to answer for. Foremost among these is the unaddressed killings of 68 worker, worker intimidation and  harassment, and a continuing and unabated culture of impunity. Issues of thehuman and trade union rights violations and worker protection remain unresolved, tarnishing our image and international reputation.

The sad  performance of DOLE at Geneva, where obtaining a positive finding of our compliance with ILO C87 was crucial to our economic objectives, is a serious setback. We urgently need those trade preferences to create much-needed jobs in an economy battling persistent double-digit underemployment numbers.

The DOLE must now answer to the Economic Management Team and President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. Genuine efforts from labor and employers to reach out  and to collaborate with the DOLE were met with inertia, indifference, and a fixation on holding on to outdated and obsolete policies.

As we navigate the path ahead, our immediate demands are clear:

1. STOP the killings and harassments. End the mechanisms that enable this.

2. Solve the past cases to ensure peace with justice.

3. Replace E.O. 23 with a Presidential Commission on Freedom of Association (FOA) featuring genuine labor and employer representation. Launch it fully funded and fully staffed.

4  Appoint a body of eminent persons to address accountability issues related to killings and matters of compensation.

5. Transform existing protocols on how state security forces engage with labor into Executive Orders.

Hold DOLE accountable for its failed vision, ensure its leadership demonstrates the political will to comply with ILO C87.

With the unified voice of the APTU and ITUC affiliates, it is of paramount importance that we bring this dark and bloody history to an end  before September 1, 2023.

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