Violations of workers’ and urban poor people’s civil and political rights intensified in 2015.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Labor rights defender Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) said in a statement today that incidences of harassment and intimidation of trade unionists and labor activists have dramatically increased in 2015. They based it on cases they have documented last year and in the past years.
Compared to just five cases documented in 2014, in 2015 they recorded at least 35 cases of harassment and intimidation of at least 192 trade unionists, labor activists and staff members of national trade union centers.
Violations of workers’ and urban poor people’s civil and political rights also intensified, CTUHR said. Their data in 2015 showed a threefold increase in cases of such violations, from 30 cases in 2014 to 91 in 2015.
These violations include extra-judicial killings (2 cases), physical assault (7 cases), assault on the picketline (9 cases), divestment and destruction of property (6 cases), grave threat (8 cases), divestment and destruction of properties (6 cases), fabrication of criminal charges (3 cases), arbitrary detention (4 cases) and food blockade (2 cases).
These cases are not only a continuing but intensifying state policy, said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director CTUHR. She believed it is intended to suppress independent and progressive trade unionism in the country.
Of the cases they documented, CTUHR noted that the most frequently harassed in 2015 were staff members of national labor centers Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).
They noted further that the attacks follow a pattern: a group of burly men claiming to be from the military would tail the staff members or officers of these workers’ organizations or surprise-visit them at home at various hours, often early in the morning; they would tell the unionists or labor advocates “we know what you are doing,” and then, they would offer “assistance” if the unionists or rights advocate would allow themselves to “coopt” with the state. Often, these “military” men would leave the unionists or advocates their cellphone numbers.
Labor activists and members of urban poor groups were also targeted for assassination last year. From CTUHR documentation, at least two (one labor organizer and one from the urban poor sector) were extra-judicially killed last year.
CTUHR also called attention to the government and big capitalists’ “use of naked force” in breaking up workers’ peaceful protests. Last year, it noted in one example of this use of naked force the case in tycoon Lucio Tan’s Tanduay Distillery in Laguna. At least 100 unionists and supporters were manhandled and hurt.
Contractual workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. had launched a strike since May 18 last year. They suffered several incidents of violent and bloody assaults in which the perpetrators were mostly state agents and “goons” reportedly hired by the Lucio Tan-owned company.
Even as the Aquino government is announcing that the Philippine economy is among the fastest growing countries in Asia next to India, China and Vietnam, amidst this “growth,” CTUHR emphasized the increasingly insecure and deteriorating working conditions in the country. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said in a press briefing also today, January 28, that the average full-year growth for 2015 is 5.8 percent, giving a six-year average real GDP growth of 6.2 percent. It said that was the highest since late 1970s.
But amid all that, CTUHR said major cases of labor standards and rights violations affecting thousands of workers across industries and sectors nearly doubled from 50 cases in 2014 to 90 cases in 2015. In at least 12 cases of retrenchment and closure it documented, some 3,653 workers were displaced and pushed to join the army of unemployed.
Tough to get a good job, wage and union
CTUHR said the workers who managed to withstand past attempts to bust their unions are being made to suffer further violations in their struggle to defend or renew their collective bargaining agreements. These violations doubled from seven cases in 2014 to 14 cases in 2015, affecting over 6,000 workers. It involved unions which had been established for years or even decades.
The labor NGO also reported that cases of deadly occupational accidents were also highest in 2015. It said 183 workers died in such accidents last year, compared to 11 in 2014. Kentex Factory fire recorded the single biggest casualty of 74 deaths.
Given such state of labor rights of Filipino workers, CTUHR questioned the Aquino government’s policy of relaxing labor standards. It said it only “further opened the floodgate for more workers rights violations while ensuring favorable and profitable business climate.”
The minimum wage was barely increased under President Aquino, and its gap with the Family Living Wage has grown wider in recent years, said independent think-tank Ibon Foundation early this month.
Progressive labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) has repeatedly asked the labor department about companies’ compliance with the minimum wage. In the labor department’s own National Labor Force Survey held in 2011, for example, it showed that 46 percent of the country’s wage and salary workers were receiving wages below the minimum.
As such, they disputed last week a Department of Labor and Employment statement claiming that labor conditions in the country have improved. “The condition of wages, employment, trade-union rights and workplace safety remain dire,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU Secretary-general.
Despite comprising some of the main targets for harassment by state forces, as documented by the CTUHR, the KMU and Courage have continued to campaign for wage hike, jobs and putting an end to contractualization.