Labor groups raise grave concerns over RCEP

Representatives from major trade unions in both the public and private sectors have raised serious concerns on the possible impacts of the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) which is currently being negotiated in Manila: According to their analysis, prices of medicines may increase, government revenue decrease and the government’s ability to regulate foreign investments, service providers and transnational corporations may be constrained.

The analysis of the labor groups are based on leaked draft texts of the RCEP as no official document has been made public throughout the four years of negotiations. Only negotiators and key business representatives had access to the official documents. Even Congress has been blindsided. This seriously constrains the democratic process.

RCEP is a mega free trade and investment agreement negotiated between 16 countries in the Asian region- the 10 ASEAN countries plus India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

The proposal to have an international private arbitration process that ignores national laws and the Constitution and where investors can make multi-billion claims against governments was another concern raised by the groups.

At a meeting attended by major labor centers like SENTRO and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), affiliates of global union federations such as PSI, IndustriALL and BWI, solidarity support organization like SASK, and the Trade Justice Campaign – Pilipinas, held on May 5 2017 in Quezon City, Dave Diwa, of National Labor Union (NLU) called RCEP a “danger zone that governments should avoid at all costs. “Vicente Camilon, Jr of the TUCP added that “RCEP might constraint our government’s power to regulate, undermine national sovereignty, and limit it ability to pursue national development objectives.” Jullian Roque of Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) further added that the deal could diminish public funds that should be devoted to basic social services.”

In contrast, the labor unions pointed out the corporate-bias of RCEP. Glen Pastorfide of the Philippine Government Employees Association (PGEA) said that RCEP could strengthen the power of corporations while weakening policies that seek to protect and conserve our natural resources and ecosystems.”

Alan Tanjusay of Associated Labor Unions (ALU) pointed out that “RCEP has no social dimension. Our government will be prevented from instituting policies and regulations beneficial to working people.”

Wilson Fortaleza of the Partido ng Manggagawa concluded that “RCEP is a global corporate agenda of regional oligarchs.”

“Clearly, the RCEP is as bad as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP),” Josua Mata, Secretary General of SENTRO, declared. “If Pres. Duterte rejected TPP, then he should, at the very least, be worried about RCEP as well,” he added.

SENTRO calls on Working People to Sustain the Call to End Contractualization, Stop Authoritarian Policies

Photo by RBanares

MANILA, Philippines (May 1, 2017) – The national labor center Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Center for United and Progressive Workers), or SENTRO, calls on the working people to continue the struggle against contractualization and the precariousness of living, “sustained by the Duterte’s regime biased for the elite.”

In a rally this morning in conjunction with the 130thglobal Labor Day commemoration, the 100,000-strong SENTRO criticized the “fake news” that contractualization is over. According to SENTRO Secretary General Josua Mata, “We gave Pres. Duterte the benefit of the doubt on his promise to end the oppressive policy of labor contractualization, in hoping that Pres. Duterte will dismantle and replace the much-criticized Department Order No. 18-A.” He said their hopes were met with grim disillusionment with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello’s release of DO No. 174 last March 19, 2017.

Mata stated that DO 174 will perpetuate contractualization by: a) allowing businesses to hire workers through agencies; b) allowing cooperatives to engage in labor contracting and subcontracting; c) no longer requiring the principal employer to provide unions a copy of the service contract; and d) allowing contracting agencies to further downplay the price of labor costs—guaranteeing even lower salaries and benefits for workers across industries. “Clearly, DO 174 widely differs from what Pres. Duterte has promised,” said Mata.

SENTRO assailed the President from being only true to its promise to kill, and to bury the late dictator Marcos at the Heroes Cemetery. In a statement, SENTRO noted that in almost 365 days in Malacañang, the President’s hands are bloodied in calling on the police, and later jobless migrant workers to kill drug users. However, it failed to deliver genuine resolution of the drug problem as it allows the escape of drug traffickers like Peter Lim.

SENTRO marched from Welcome Rotonda and converged with the 10,000 marchers of NAGKAISA Coalition to push Pres. Duterte to prioritize the prohibition of all forms of contractualization by supplanting DO 174 with an Executive Order and by certifying as urgent the passage of HB4444.

Allies from human rights groups such as iDEFEND, the World March of Women, and students marched with the workers to call on all “freedom-loving Filipinos to stand up and be counted in the fight for regular and sustainable jobs, to stop the killings, block Duterte’s Death Policies – the reimposition of the death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminality – and to resist moves to amend the constitution to institute “constitutional authoritarianism.” The march followed a coffin with a chick on top, a derivation from a Filipino custom, hoping that the deaths will stop immediately.

“Let us assert our basic right to a dignified and genuinely safe society—not the selective security of the privileged that preys on the massacre of the poor,” added Mata.

SENTRO vows to continue the struggle against contractualization

Photo by JTMata

Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa joins the global working peoples in their 130th commemoration of International Labor Day. Filipino workers have been commemorating the International Labor Day and the continuing struggles of the working masses since 1903, inextricably tying it to the anti-colonial struggle. Faced as it is by monumental challenges and massive societal roadblocks, SENTRO remains undaunted and steadfast in its commitment towards organizing, fighting and winning on behalf of the working peoples of the Philippines.

In less than a year, President Rodrigo Duterte has seen his popularity and trust ratings erode by 7% and 11% among the working poor. While a number of the population remains unperturbed by this, this development is an indicator that a significant section of our people is beginning to fear for their lives— and perhaps even regretting their complicity to the election of an unrepentant violator of human rights and democratic institutions.

The working people gave Pres. Duterte the benefit of the doubt on his promise to end the oppressive policy of labor contractualization. We hoped that Pres. Duterte will dismantle and replace the much-criticized Department Order No. 18-A. But our hopes were met with grim disillusionment with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello’s release of Department Order No. 174 last March 19, 2017.

This policy will perpetuate contractualization by: a) allowing businesses to hire workers through agencies; b) allowing cooperatives to engage in labor contracting and subcontracting; c) no longer requiring the principal employer to provide unions a copy of the service contract; and d) allowing contracting agencies to further downplay the price of labor costs—guaranteeing even lower salaries and benefits for workers across industries. Clearly, DO 174 widely differs from what Pres. Duterte has promised.

Truth is, the Duterte regime is only consistent in one thing: it wants to kill, and the freedom to kill who it wants to kill. The spate of extrajudicial killings occurring all over the country—ostensibly sponsored and abetted by the Philippine National Police’s Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel—has claimed anywhere between 8,000 to 10,000 lives already. This has worsened the situation of poor women, leaving them in trauma, isolation and greater vulnerability to further abuse such as prostitution. In addition to this,the Philippine Congress reintroduces the death penalty,and was passed by the House of Representatives last March 7, 2017, awaiting advancement in the Philippine Senate—despite the Philippines’ international commitment to treaties not to do so. Another legislative bill intends to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to nine (9) years of age, pushing back the victory in the past of children’s rights groups.

It is probably not without reason that this culture of death has been roundly condemned by the international community. The “War on the Poor,” as it is, has made a mockery of its initial propaganda to rid us of the menace of drug dependence and promote a secure, living society. While the poor is being killed, the drug profiteers like Peter Lim are left scot-free.

As expected, the elites are in no hurry to oppose or even modulate the Duterte regime’s reign of terror and death. Many of these politicians have kowtowed to Malacañang, probably in anticipation of the impending push for charter change, which may see the Philippines parcelled around longstanding political dynasties and the further dismantling of the country’s economic infrastructure through their hard-selling of Federalism.

Once again, it is up to the working people and their labor movement to defend our rights, even as we continue to deepen democracy in the country. It is for this reason that SENTRO, together with its allies amongst the progressive forces, is calling on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand up and be counted in the fight to stop the killings, block Duterte’s Death Policies – the reimposition of the death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminality – and to resist moves to amend the constitution to institute “constitutional authoritharianism.” SENTRO believes that workers’ and trade union rights cannot genuinely exist if human and democratic rights are compromised and thrown to the gutter.

We call on the working people to continue the struggle against contractualization and the precariousness of living sustained by the Duterte regime’s neo-liberal policies. Let us assert our basic right to a dignified and genuinely safe society—not the selective security of the privileged that preys on the massacre of the poor.

Organize! Fight! Win!

Download FIlipino version of the statement

International trade union calls for firm EU action on imported Philippines tuna tainted with human rights violations

An international trade union delegation comprising the IUF, the IUF European regional organization EFAT-IUF, the Norwegian Food Workers’ Union NNN and two members of a trade union from General Santos City in the Philippines which is leading the fight to ensure respect for international human rights standards in the country’s massive tuna industry, will be in Brussels on April 24 for talks with the EU’s Directorate General for Trade.

Under the EU’s GSP+ system, tuna exports from the Philippines receive tariff-free entry into the European market on condition that minimum rights standards are respected. To date, there has been little progress.

In 2013, the Citra Mina Group of Companies, among the largest tuna exporters in General Santos, terminated hundreds of workers for exercising their human right to form a trade union. Their fight for rights, recognition and reinstatement continues to this day, and has become the Philippines’ longest-running high-profile labour conflict.

In 2015, congressional hearings in the Philippines detailed the Citra Mina Group’s pattern of abuses: systematic violations of labour standards and trade union rights,rampant abuse of precarious employment and shell companies to evade legal obligations, slave-like conditions on boats and deaths on the high seas. Hundreds of trafficked crew members detaining for illegal fishing in Indonesian waters have received no assistance from the company. This year, Congressional Representative Tom Villarin cited the entrenched pattern of rights violations by Citra Mina as a cruel symptom of the government’s failure to enforce respect for the international human rights standards it has signed onto and pledged to implement. And Citra Mina, he said, was only the tip of the iceberg. The government’s failure to hold Citra Mina to account for these violations is the subject of a complaint before the United Nations’ ILO Committee on Freedom of Association submitted by the IUF last year.

The IUF insists that the EU can make much more effective use of the mechanisms established under GSP+, and that it has a clear responsibility to take firm action in defense of the industry’s workers order to raise standards for the fishing sector as a whole.

The unions will also be bringing this message to the annual Brussels Seafood Expo the following day, the world’s largest commercial sea food fair where both Citra Mina and the government of Philippines will be participating.

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The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) is an international trade union federation composed of 427 trade unions in 127 countries representing over 10 million workers.It is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rules Allowing Agency Hiring Rejected Anew by Workers Groups

The anticipated new Department Order (D.O.) on endo is finally out for issuance today. But rejection can only be the immediate response of organized labor for the kind of rules that speak about prohibiting contractualization but ends up allowing agency hiring in many forms.

The Labor Secretary has ignored the overwhelming demand of trade unions and workers’ associations to prohibit contractualization since the previous administrations and which the groups continue to articulate in all official consultative processes called for by the DOLE and national tripartite conferences from the beginning of the Duterte Administration.

The President then was very clear: “Ayoko sa agency agency, wala na dapat itong agency agency,” declared the President during the labor dialogue last February 27. The labor movement, likewise, was very insistent: The current policy is a failure, thus, the government must now shift to prohibition.

Workers were demanding prohibition on contractualization based on the following grounds:

The current policy of “allow then regulate” has failed the workers and this nation. A country of endos is a nation of poor, violated, and voiceless people.

It is immoral as it allows employers to save on labor cost and avoid having direct responsibility to their workers while their middlemen (agencies and cooperatives) earn profit from the same exploitative trading transaction.

It is anti-labor because it violates all the fundamental rights of labor.

It is anti-development as it exacerbates poverty and deepens inequality in our country.

By ensuring continuity and stability of agency hiring, the new D.O. will never put an end but rather perpetuate the epidemic of contractualization.

1. It prohibits labor-only-contracting (LOC) and the cabo system which is already prohibited by law anyway;

2. While it prohibits the contractualization of jobs directly related to main business and subject to control of principal, interpretation disputes shall mean expensive an wearisome litigations in DOLE, NLRC and the courts;

3. Only in-house agencies and labor cooperatives are not allowed to operate. Independent contractors are permitted;

4. The DO opens floodgates to agencies to set up shops. This will enhance cutthroat competition among contractors bidding down salaries and benefits of their employees;

5. The more contractuals the country will have, the harder to monitor and regulate. DOLE’s inspection capacity is a chronic problem that also has to be addressed.

It is still a sad day for workers. But the struggle continues. It’s time for a full court press and nationwide actions. We thus demand that Pres. Duterte issue an Executive Order in place of this bad order and certify as an urgent measure HB4444 that seeks the prohibition of contractualization and the criminalization of such offense

PRESS STATEMENT
NAGKAISA
17 March 2017
Contact: Ka Rene Magtubo, Spokesperson
09178532905