Global Union Federations in the Asia-Pacific Region Call for Immediate Action to Stop Violence Against Trade Unionists in the Philippines and End the Climate of Fear

Global Union Federations in the Asia-Pacific Region Call for Immediate Action to Stop Violence Against Trade Unionists in the Philippines and End the Climate of Fear

On 23 August 2021, the Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations of the Global Union Federations (GUFs) issued a statement calling for immediate action by the Philippines Government under the guidance of the ILO to stop the violent attacks, threats and intimidation of trade unionists, including red tagging. The inaction of the government and impunity of the security forces has created a climate of fear that is preventing workers from exercising their fundamental human right to join or form a union.

Download the statement here.

The Asia-Pacific Regional GUFs express their grave concern that the killing of trade unionists and violence and threats of violence against organizers and trade union leaders continue to escalate in the Philippines.

This systematic and widespread violence and threats and intimidation against trade union leaders, organizers and members creates an environment in which the fundamental right to freedom of association is no longer guaranteed. Each and every instance of violence perpetrated against trade union leaders and organizers constitutes a violation of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87).

It is a matter of great urgency that the Government of the Philippines, under the technical assistance and guidance of the ILO, take immediate action to implement effective measures to stop violence against workers and guarantee the rights protected under ILO Convention No.87.

In June 2019, trade unions from the Philippines reported on violence against trade unionists to the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) at the 108th Session of the International Labour Conference. This included the killing of trade unions, violence against organizers and trade union leaders and threats of violence. In response the Committee made requested that the Government accept a high-level tripartite mission (HLTM) to the Philippines. Trade unions in the Philippines and the GUF Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations welcomed the HLTM as an important step in addressing these serious rights violations.

However, due the restrictions on international travel in the COVID-19 pandemic, the HLTM was postponed and is unlikely to take place before June 2022.

In the meantime, the Government has taken no concerted action to stop the violence. Instead, the Government has only asked the ILO CAS what constitutes “effective measures” to prevent violence against workers and what constitutes “immediate and effective investigation” that would ensure compliance with ILO Convention No.87.[1] As the Government asks how it should fulfill its most basic obligations under this fundamental ILO convention, the killings, violence and climate of fear continues.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has been very clear in its decisions in past cases concerning ILO Convention No.87 exactly what is the obligations of all Governments to protect these rights. For example, the Committee on Freedom of Association has stated that:

The rights of workers’ and employers’ organizations can only be exercised in a climate that is free from violence, pressure or threats of any kind against the leaders and members of these organizations, and it is for governments to ensure that this principle is respected.[2]

 

All appropriate measures should be taken to guarantee that, irrespective of trade union affiliation, trade union rights can be exercised in normal conditions with respect for basic human rights and in a climate free of violence, pressure, fear and threats of any kind.[3]

 

The Committee requested a government to ensure that any emergency measures aimed at national security did not prevent in any way the exercise of legitimate trade union rights and activities, including strikes, by all trade unions irrespective of their philosophical or political orientation, in a climate of complete security.[4]

 

All allegations of violence against workers who are organizing or otherwise defending workers’ interests should be thoroughly investigated and full consideration should be given to any possible direct or indirect relation that the violent act may have with trade union activity.[5]

 

A climate of violence, coercion and threats of any type aimed at trade union leaders and their families does not encourage the free exercise and full enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set out in Conventions Nos. 87 and 98. All States have the undeniable duty to promote and defend a social climate where respect of the law reigns as the only way of guaranteeing respect for and protection of life.[6]

These are just some of the decisions made by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association that clearly are applicable to the current situation in the Philippines. Therefore, the obligations of the Government are absolutely clear.

It is equally clear that the Government has failed to ensure the immediate and thorough investigation of all acts of violence and threats against trade union leaders, organizers and members. This in turn reinforces an environment of impunity for the security force personnel involved, thereby exacerbating the climate of fear.

In June 2020 the ILO CAS made similar observations regarding the urgent need for the Government to thoroughly investigate violence and intimidation of trade unionists with the aim of effectively preventing and combating impunity.”[7]

This environment of fear is deliberately orchestrated by organs of the Government – acting with impunity – to restrict and undermine trade union activity. In this environment of fear trade union members have resigned from their unions and non-organized workers have been too afraid to vote in favour of unions. This reflects the complete failure of the Government to ensure the rights guaranteed in ILO Convention No.87 are accessible to workers in the Philippines.

It is in this context that the GUF Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations call for immediate action by the Philippines government under the guidance and direction of the ILO.

The GUF Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations welcome the position of ILO CAS in June 2020 regarding the follow-up to the conclusions of the CAS June 2019, that the Government, while awaiting the HLTM, “… in the meantime, it can avail itself of the technical assistance of the Office, including in order to elaborate a plan of action, detailing progressive steps to be taken to achieve full compliance with the Convention.[8]

There we must now proceed to develop this plan of action in the Philippines through an effective, inclusive tripartite process overseen by the ILO in which the affiliated unions of the GUF Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations will participate. Given the continued violence and threats of violence against trade unionists, this is a matter of great urgency.

Notes

[1] Observation (CEACR) – adopted 2020, published 109th ILC session (2021). Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) – Philippines.

[2] See the 2006 Digest, para. 44; 340th Report, Case No. 1787, para. 607, Case No. 2393, para. 1062, Case No. 2268, para. 1090; 342nd Report, Case No. 2298, para. 548, Case No. 2323, para. 695; 343rd Report, Case No. 1787, para. 418, Case No. 2445, para. 896, Case No. 2313, para. 1167; 344th Report, Case No. 2169, para. 140, Case No. 2486, para. 1213; 346th Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1437; 348th Report, Case No. 1787, para. 274, Case No. 2516, para. 684, Case No. 2540, para. 813, Case No. 2254, para. 1323; 349th Report, Case No. 2486, para. 1242; 350th Report, Case No. 2554, para. 504; 351st Report, Case No. 2540, para. 894, Case No. 2268, para. 1037; 353rd Report, Case No. 1787, para. 507, Case No. 2619, para. 580; 354th Report, Case No. 2068, para. 57; 355th Report, Case No. 2609, para. 863; 356th Report, Case No. 1787, para. 554, Case No. 2669, para. 1253; 357th Report, Case No. 2382, para. 25, Case No. 2713, para. 1102; 358th Report, Case No. 2723, para. 555, Case No. 2735, para. 609; 359th Report, Case No. 2445, para. 571, Case No. 2609, para. 628; 362nd Report, Case No. 2723, para. 834; 363rd Report, Case No. 2761, para. 427, Case No. 2768, para. 636, Case No. 2850, para. 873; 364th Report, Case No. 2859, para. 551; 367th Report, Case No. 2761, para. 443, Case No. 2923, para. 710, Case No. 2913, para. 806; 368th Report, Case No. 2609, para. 458, Case No. 2959, para. 505, Case No. 2978, para. 519; 370th Report, Case No. 2957, para. 411, Case No. 2723, para. 441; 371st Report, Case No. 2982, para. 700; 372nd Report, Case No. 3018, para. 494; 374th Report, Case No. 3050, para. 468; 376th Report, Case No. 3067, para. 953, Case No. 3113, para. 987; and 378th Report, Case No. 2609, para. 300, Case No. 3119, para. 668 and Case No. 2254, para. 848.

[3] See the 2006 Digest, para. 35; 346th Report, Case No. 1865, para. 787, Case No. 2528, para. 1453; 351st Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1204; 356th Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1145; and 360th Report, Case No. 2745, para. 1076.

[4] See 356th Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1184.

[5] See 356th Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1143.

[6] See the 2006 Digest, para. 58; 342nd Report, Case No. 2441, para. 627; 346th Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1459; 349th Report, Case No. 2561, para. 381; 351st Report, Case No. 2528, para. 1226; 356th Report, Case No. 2669, para. 1253; and 378th Report, Case No. 2254, para. 842.

[7] Observation (CEACR) – adopted 2020, published 109th ILC session (2021). Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) – Philippines.

[8] Observation (CEACR) – adopted 2020, published 109th ILC session (2021). Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) – Philippines.

As Unilever launches its new global tea business, Lipton tea workers in Pakistan are protesting against deception and insecurity

As Unilever launches its new global tea business, Lipton tea workers in Pakistan are protesting against deception and insecurity

As Unilever prepares to launch the new global tea company ekaterra on 1st October, workers in Pakistan are protesting against local management’s deliberate deception and misinformation that has undermined job security and created even greater anxiety in a pandemic.

When Unilever Pakistan started the transfer of the Khanewal tea factory to ekaterra on 1st July, the Workers Union Unilever Pakistan (WUUP) requested more information about the terms and conditions of the transition and how union members will transfer to the new business. Management refused to respond, claiming that the union does not have collective bargaining status. This is despite the fact that WUUP represents the majority of workers at the tea factory. WUUP – a member of the IUF-affiliated Pakistan Food Workers Federation (PFWF) – argued that it does not need collective bargaining status to have the right to information about its members’ job security. Management instead misused an emergency safety meeting to make announcements to all employees, giving vague reassurances. When a formal “town hall” meeting of all employees was finally held, no new information was provided and questions by worried union members were ignored.

While the company claims it is only obliged to meet with representatives of the Unilever Employees Federation due to its national collective bargaining status, management conveniently ignores the fact there is no collective bargaining involved. It also ignores well documented corruption and collusion that severely undermined human rights and violated ethical standards in the past. In 2013 the leadership of the Unilever Employees Federation were charged with embezzlement of the workers’ welfare fund, which also implicated people in local management.

Even with the workers welfare fund accounts frozen while under police investigation, Unilever Pakistan management continued to make monthly deductions from workers’ wages. WUUP representatives at Khanewal asked management what will happen to these funds when ekaterra is spun off from Unilever on 1st October. There was no reply. Given past corruption and collusion, Lipton tea workers are worried their entitlements will simply disappear when they move to the new company.

Also unresolved is the fate of 33 WUUP members arbitrarily designated as “surplus” at the Lipton factory. Management refuses to discuss their fate with the union, raising fears they will be forced into redundancy on 1st October.

In recent years management transferred more machinery and work to third parties, reducing job roles at the Lipton factory. Despite company claims that AGA PACK Private Limited in Karachi is a specialized tea business, all of the machinery and equipment is owned by Unilever Pakistan. AGA PACK’s sole specialization is that it provides cheap, non-union labour.

The fact that AGA PACK was given much more information by Unilever Pakistan management about the new business arrangements after 1st October, suggests that ekaterra will maintain these precarious employment arrangements and disguised employment relationships. Instead of a fresh start to overcome the legacy of corruption, collusion and rights violations in the past, ekaterra appears more determined to limit the role of independent unions in the future. Yet the deception and misinformation used to launch its new business risks creating mistrust and uncertainty well beyond the Lipton workers at Khanewal.

 

Workers Justice Committee calls for urgent inspection of all factories under Sajeeb Group

Workers Justice Committee calls for urgent inspection of all factories under Sajeeb Group

On 18 July 2021 the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee submitted letters to the Director General of Fire Services & Civil Defence and the Inspector General of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments calling for the immediate investigation of all factories operated by the Sajeed Group of Companies.

The letters were submitted by Abdul Mazid, General Secretary and Mamun Hossain, Assistant General Secretary of BAFLF BAFLF, on behalf of the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee

Based on the extensive and systematic exploitation of child labour at the Hashem Foods factory and hazardous working conditions, the Committee called on both government agencies to inspect eight other factories including Hashem Rice Mills, Sajeeb Foods and Beverage, Hashem Agro Processing, Hashem Flour Mills, Sajeeb Logistics and Savvy Foods.

Protests in Sri Lanka against detention of trade unionists in COVID-19 quarantine center

Protests in Sri Lanka against detention of trade unionists in COVID-19 quarantine center

Trade unions in Sri Lanka, including the IUF-affiliated CMU, held a mass protest rally demanding the immediate and unconditional release of trade union leaders and activist members who were arrested by police on July 8, 2021.

Although the court released them, they were taken by police 330 km from Colombo and placed in a COVID-19 quarantine camp. This is yet another example of the government abusing COVID-19 protocols and restrictions to curtail trade union activities and persecute trade unionists.

The trade union leaders and members were arrested on July 7 at a protest against the unfair termination of workers from State Engineering Corporation. Police brutally disbursed the protesters and arrested them. On July 8 police also arrested trade unionists protesting against proposed legislation to establish another military academy that threatens to undermine the education system.

On their release trade unionists were not tested for COVID-19, but were instead placed in a quarantine center with COVID-19 patients, exposing them to the risk of infection.

The trade unions jointly protested, demanding the release the leaders and members from the quarantine centre.