ILO chief’s Philippine visit may pressure gov’t to boost protection of local workers

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE INTERNATIONAL Labor Organization (ILO) director general’s visit to the Philippines this week could pressure the government to boost efforts to uphold labor rights and step-up investigations of injustices against trade unionists, according to Philippine labor groups.

“In the spirit of promoting social and economic justice, the Federation of Free Workers will bring the issue of providing workers with a decent standard of living to the forefront of the discussion with Director General Houngbo,” federation President Jose “Sonny” G. Matula said in Viber message at the weekend.

He added that they would bring up the recent wage hike petitions filed before the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards with the ILO official.

ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo is set to meet with state officials, labor groups and representatives from the employer sector on June 26-28 to discuss labor issues in the Philippines.

In March, the Unity for Wage Increase Now sought to raise the P570 daily minimum wage in Metro Manila to P1,100. The region’s wage board approved a P33 minimum wage hike in June last year. 

The Kapatiran ng Mga Unyon at Samahang Manggagawa in December filed a petition seeking a P100 increase for the capital region.

The Metro Manila wage board would likely decide on the petitions by July, Sarah Buena S. Mirasol, regional director of the Labor department and head of the capital region’s wage board, told BusinessWorld last week.

“It would be an opportune time for labor groups in the country to meet with him (Mr. Houngbo) and discuss with him the real state of labor in the country,” Renato B. Magtubo, chairman of Partido Manggagawa, said in a Viber message.

“There needs to be a discussion on the persistent attack on workers’ freedom of association, the rising cost of living and low wages among a vast number of workers.”

He said the visit could add pressure to the capital region’s wage board to fast-track the resolution of the wage petitions.

Lawmakers have filed bills seeking across-the-board minimum wage hikes for workers in the private and agriculture sectors to help them cope with spiraling prices.

In March, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” F. Zubiri filed a bill that seeks to increase the minimum wage for these workers by P150.

At the House of Representatives, the Makabayan coalition proposed a wage hike of P750 for all private sector workers, including those working in special economic zones, freeports and in the agriculture sector.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines earlier said a legislated wage hike should also consider workers in less formal employment, noting that private sector workers only make up 16% of the labor force.

Higher wages would benefit informal workers by serving as a benchmark for how much pay they can seek from their employers, Carlos Miguel S. Oñate, a legislative staff officer of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, told a wage hike hearing on June 21.

“The visit of the ILO director general is significant, coming at a time when the country was just recently grilled during the ILO International Labor Conference for its systemic violation of freedom of association,” Josua T. Mata, secretary general of the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, said in a Viber message.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on April 30 signed an executive order creating an inter-agency body that will investigate violations targeting trade unionists.

Labor groups have criticized the order, saying it lacked participation from workers.

Earlier this month, Philippine Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma told the International Labor Conference the government is committed to ensuring both the worker and employer sectors are well-represented in discussions of wages and labor rights.

Job quality worsened in April, as the underemployment rate, which measures workers seeking further employment or longer hours, increased to 12.9% from 11.2% a month earlier, the Philippine Statistics Authority said on June 9. 

The country’s unemployment rate fell to a four-month low of 4.5% from 4.7% in March.

In February, a team of ILO representatives met with trade unions and government officials to discuss human rights violations against workers and union organizers.

That month, trade unions submitted a joint report to the ILO mission on labor rights violations, saying the government has consistently failed to comply with ILO conventions on freedom of association and the right to organize.

“The labor movement hopes the director-general could communicate to the government, especially to the president, that the country cannot continue to ignore the recommendations of the ILO high-level tripartite mission because that would send the wrong signal to its trading partners,” Mr. Mata said.