By: Atty. Jose Sonny G. Matula
National President, Federation of Free Workers (FFW), an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation and ITUC-Asia Pacific
Workers’ Delegate of the Philippines to the
101st Session of the International Labour Conference
Geneva, Switzerland, 11 June 2012

Mr. President[1], our warm congratulations, as we say mabuhay[2] to your stewardship of the 101st International Labor Conference.

We welcome with enthusiasm the election of Brother Guy Ryder, the ILO Director General elect, who will assume office in October 2012 for a 5-year mandate, amid global unemployment and huge challenge of diminishing rights of working people as work becomes increasingly precarious.  

We express our deepest gratitude to Mr. Juan Somavia, the outgoing Director General, for his steady stewardship of the ILO for the past 13 years.  A job well-done “Mr. Decent Work”!

Distinguished tripartite partners, ladies and gentlemen, the Philippine workers dream of and pursue better times to come. We firmly hold that the future belongs to our young people. But if our youth are left with no work or when they get lucky enough to find work they are placed under precarious conditions, what shall become of our future?

The Employers’ Group in the Committee of Application of Standards  (CAS) wants dis-empowered young workers and necessarily, dis-empowered workers when it derailed the examination of cases on application of standards, in law and practice.  The five double-footnoted countries and others in the list were allowed not to be held accountable for non-compliance with International Labour Standards particularly, on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.[3]   The Employers’ Group has a novel idea that henceforth freedom of association does not include the right to strike as it is not so stated in Convention 87.

With all due respect, the Philippine workers’ delegation together with the Philippine trade union movement disagrees. The ITUC[4] and the global unions[5] hold the same view.   It has been long settled that in Convention 87, the right to organize unions includes the twin fundamental rights: (1) to collectively bargain and (2) to peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike.
The distinguished members of the Committee of Experts did not make a new interpretation or exceeded their authority.  The experts merely reiterated long-settled principles.  Under Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention of Treaties, long practice and long time application are controlling in interpretation of treaties. It also well-established in the fundamental laws, labor legislations and jurisprudence in majority of the ILO member countries as found in the survey.
On global youth unemployment, the Philippines is not an exception.  Half of the total unemployed are young people, between ages 15 to 24, despite economic growth in the past few years. The jobs generated have not been sufficient[6].
Opportunities are lacking forcing young workers to go abroad to look  for jobs making them unprotected migrant workers. A substantial number of these migrant Filipinos are women.
Precariousness of jobs and unionism.  A great number of jobs are increasingly becoming precarious the world over and unions are increasingly put in the defensive.[7]
Sadly, members of manpower cooperatives are used to replace regular workers and union members. The principles of cooperativism are being bastardized.
About 90 percent of petitions for certification elections are opposed by employers up to the Supreme Court.
Shrinking CBA coverage and Social Justice. These are why unionism in the Philippines is on the decline. In 2005, about 500,000 workers were covered by collective bargaining agreement. Now, less than 250,000 workers are covered by CBA, a mere one (1) per cent of wage earners.[8]
For all these reasons, we support the adoption of a Recommendation on a Social Protection Floor that will guide us in our efforts to provide decent work for all under the Philippine Labor and Employment Plan for 2011-2016. We have been urging our government to include unemployment insurance in our social security system.
Likewise, we join with the proposal of the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) to include the migrant workers issues in the agenda of the 102nd International Labor Conference. We also call for a union to union cooperation among sending and receiving countries to protect migrant workers.
Major realignment.  Against this challenging backdrop, there is good news in the Philippines – unions are uniting. Despite our diversity, we have formed NAGKAISA (United).  Nagkaisa! includes major trade unions from both private and public sector.[9] It ranges from the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines under Brother Democrito Mendoza, our very own Federation of Free Workers, to the SENTRO-led by the Alliance of Progressive Labor and close to 40 other trade union organizations. [10]
Tripartism and Reforms. Under the new Aquino Administration, tripartism is alive and now becoming more expansive in the Philippines. The National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council[11] has been replicated at sub-national levels and in an increasing number of industry sectors.  Likewise, the tripartite review of our Labor Code to align the same with ratified ILO Conventions is ongoing, including the conduct of capacity-building for all duty bearers with technical assistance from the ILO.   So many reforms are currently being undertaken.
However, there is a need for continued guidance and ILO technical support to ensure that prosecution and conviction of pending cases of trade union rights violation will progress as fast as the other initiatives,[12] to ensure full compliance with ILO Convention 87 and 98, in law and practice.
Bold initiatives are still needed to address the fundamental causes of trade union killings which declined but reportedly continue to happen with impunity. We call attention to the fact that CFA decisions on the cases of Dusit Nikko Hotel and University of San Agustin have yet to be fully acted upon by government.
Social justice is a continuing quest by all workers throughout the world including the workers in the Philippines. Workers are ready to lead the struggle and the ILO standards serves as our collective guideposts for our actions.
Mabuhay ang Manggagawang Pilipino![13] Long live the workers of the world!

God bless us all.


[1] His Excellency Rafael Alburquerque de Castro.

[2]Mabuhay” is a Filipino word which means “more power” or “long live”.

[3] Presented for examination were alleged violence against trade unionists perpetrated in Colombia, Guatemala and Swaziland but employers don’t think the ILO should even discuss the issue. Workers in Egypt are in the midst of a battle for their basic rights to decent work, but it appears employers to be siding with the military and fundamentalist forces both of which want to deprive workers of a voice. Also, the employer representatives refused to allow discussion of the withdrawal of collective bargaining rights in Greece and Spain and many serious cases where decent labor laws are under attack.

[4] International Trade Union Confederation and its regional affiliate ITUC-Asia Pacific.

[5] BWI, EI, ICEM, ITGWF, ITF, PSI, among others.

[6] The economy was growing at the average of 4.4% while the growth of jobs for the youth only reached 1.6%.

[7] Those presently working and the new entrants to the labor force get contract jobs that in the Philippine setting, will last for only five months.  If left unchecked, despite the tripartite-crafted Department Order No. 18-A, Series of 2011, and despite the almost 200% expansion in the number of DOLE compliance officers, the constitutional mandate on social justice and on the right to security of tenure of workers in the private and public sectors in the Philippines would be rendered meaningless.  

[8] In another front, inclusive growth in our Philippine Development Plan uncannily sustains a situation where real wages continue to be eroded by inflation. Among others, this has been triggered by the uncontrollable increase in oil prices because of deregulation and unthinking liberalization.

[9] It ranges from the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Federation of Free Workers, to the new Sentro group led by the Alliance of Progressive labor and National Union of Workers in Hotel and Restaurant Industry, to the Partido ng Manggawa, including the Philippine Government Employees Association, PSLINK, BMP, CIU, NCL, Makabayan and other trade union organizations. It’s very diversity and the ease by which it came together is testament to a rapidly evolving and reforming labor movement that is sensitive to the need to counter massive casualisation and the imperative of solidarity.

[10] NAGKAISA desires to engage government and all sectors in meaningful social dialogue for real inclusive growth under an environment of freedom, social justice and solidarity. Initial success of this labor unity was the P30.00-wage increase in Metro Manila area granted by the Regional Tripartite Productivity Board as an offshoot of the petition of TUCP which was supported by NAGKAISA.

[11] Having a monitoring body to look into FOA complaints is foremost of these initiatives as well as the efforts for “out of the box” solutions to end years of dispute in the pending cases with the Committee on Freedom of Association.

[12] As of this time, though there are number of cases pending in court, there are only four (4) convictions for the blatant disregard of trade union and human rights.

[13] Long live the Filipino workers!



Atty. Sonny Matula, National President of the Federation of Free Workers, and workers' delegate of the Philippines, addresses the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva.



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