RP to remain under ‘active scrutiny’ for labor rights violations
Date of publication: July 10, 2008
Source: ABS-CBN News Online
By ARIES RUFO
The Philippines will remain under "active scrutiny" by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) following unabated violations of labor rights and killings of trade union leaders under the Arroyo administration
This developed as the USTR thumbed down the Philippine government’s request to terminate its review on the labor situation in the country. The review will determine whether the Philippines is eligible to continue its participation in the Generalized System of Preferences Program, which extends preferential trade benefits to Philippine exports to the US.
US law requires that a country must afford their workers’ "internationally recognized worker rights" including the right to freedom of association, to qualify in the GSP program.
The ruling was prompted by a petition filed by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) in June last year seeking an inquiry by the USTR into whether the Philippines is complying with the freedom of association.
The complaint cited the killings of trade unionists from 2001 to 2007 and efforts by the government to deny laborers the right to form associations by enforcing "no union, no strike" policies in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and by assuming jurisdiction to end labor disputes.
‘Orgy of violence’
In what the International Trade Union Confederation described as an "orgy of extrajudicial violence," at least 33 labor and trade union leaders have reportedly been abducted and killed since the government intensified its campaign against leftist and labor groups.
The latest victim from the labor front was Gerardo Cristobal, former union president of Samahan ng Manggagawa sa EMI-YAZAKI in Imus, Cavite. He was killed last March 10, 2008 as he was about to leave his home. He was the second union organizer of EMI-YAZAKi who was ambushed and killed.
Other prominent labor leaders killed over the past years were Rolando Mariano, former president of Tarlac Electric Cooperative Employees’ Labor Union, who was shot by unidentified men; Florante Collantes, general secretary of Bayan Muna’s chapter in Tarlac, also killed by unknown assailant; Ricardo Ramos, president of the United Luisita Union, also by unknown assassin and Federico de Leon, president of PISTON, a transport group.
Uphold labor rights
During a hearing conducted by the USTR in October 2007, ILRF asked that the inquiry remain open pending a showing by the Philippine government that it has taken concrete steps to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Phillip Alston, as well as the recommendations of the International Labor Organization's Committee on the Freedom of Association. The latter group has concluded that the Philippines' assumption of jurisdiction is in violation of international standards.
Assumptions of jurisdiction are normally resorted to by the labor department in keeping the status quo on ongoing labor disputes. Under this set-up, workers are prevented from resorting to strikes while ordering management to accept the workers back. Labor groups however said assumptions of jurisdiction favor the management.
In a statement, lawyer Brian Cambell of the ILRF said the USTR’s decision is a welcome move to ensure that the government uphold labor rights. "We hope that the Philippine government will take the necessary steps to end the impunity enjoyed by those who kill and harass trade unionists so that businesses in the Philippines can continue to enjoy preferential trade benefits under the GSP program."