Last week, the ILO completed its High-level Mission to the
At the end of its stay in
Unsurprisingly, on the most contentious issue presented to the ILO Mission and the primary issue the ILO Mission sought to address, the Mission noted simply that it received “contradictory statements concerning violence against trade unionists and the sufficiency of the efforts made by the Government to ensure that workers may exercise their trade union rights in a climate free from fear.” The ILO first requested a Mission to the Philippines in 2007, after the Kilusang Mayo Uno, a militant trade union federation representing nearly 300,000 Filipino workers, as well as other independent trade unions, filed complaints with the ILO alleging labor organizers and activists were being killed, abducted, arrested, or threatened by Philippine government security forces.
For two years, the Philippines refused to allow the ILO Mission, arguing that the killings and other abuses are not labor-related, but rather likely motivated by politics, and therefore are not the concern of the ILO. Just days before the mission was set to arrive, the Government was in full spin mode, arguing that the numbers of “labor-related” killings are being intentionally inflated. Disputing reports by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights that 92 labor organizers and activists have been killed since President Arroyo assumed control of the Philippine government, Philippine officials argued that there have been only 39 reported labor-related killings, and that human rights groups have also categorized 24 of as being politically motivated-killings. However, considering that the Government is publicly insisting that labor activities by certain unions, especially organizing activities, are really political acts aimed at undermining the Philippine economy and supporting armed rebellion, the intersection between politics and labor is immense and mostly an irrelevant red herring. Labor unions have both the right and responsibility to engage in political activities when needed to ensure that their member’s rights are being respected.
It’s not clear, yet, whether the ILO will push for fundamental changes to the government’s counter-insurgency policies, as called for by the global labor movement at the ILO this past summer. Taking a small step in that direction, the ILO Mission has called for improved training of military forces and other agencies. However, improved training alone will make no difference if the military has at the core of its counter-insurgency a policy to harass labor organizers and activists from certain labor groups. If the ILO does choose to push the Philippine government to change its counter-insurgency program, it will ultimately face the same challenges that the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who reported this past April that the Philippine government has failed to implement his recommendations aimed at ending extrajudicial executions.
In the end, the ILO is constrained by its tripartite governing model and its lack of power to impose sanctions like the WTO. Thus, realistically, the ILO can only take on a very limited mandate of improving social dialogue and providing technical assistance. Both are important, especially in a country with a fractured union movement that faces the combined efforts of the government and employers to undermine their ability to represent workers, but they are not enough. Only meaningful action by the Philippine government to prosecute those responsible for the deaths and disappearances of labor organizers and activists, to end to the vilification, threats, and harassments of labor leaders by government officials, and to end anti-union education campaigns currently being conducted by the military will all Philippine citizens take their first step towards enjoying their right to freedom of association and to organize a union of their choice without government interference.
For more information on trade union violence in the