The Philippines: Snapshots from the Labor Movement

The Philippines: Snapshots from the Labor Movement

The Philippines is ranked as one of the 10 worst countries for working people. Unions there face attempts to bust their organization, arrests and violence–including murder. And last year, four union activists were killed for their work. Still, the labor movement is rising to a multitude of challenges, addressing issues of importance to their members and advancing the cause of worker rights in general.    

For example, the National Union of Building and Construction Workers (NUBCW, above) is addressing unsafe construction practices that put workers at risk including lack of days off and risks of slipping, falling and being hit by heavy falling objects.

Union members with RIDERS-SENTRO say insurance is fundamental to their ability to earn a living. Yet, while the Philippines has government-mandated social and health insurance benefits that employers must contribute to, motorbike delivery workers are categorized as independent contractors, not employees. Riders say they cannot afford those benefits on their own, and if they do not work, they do not earn a living. RIDERS-SENTRO launched a campaign for comprehensive insurance, as well as fair rates and other demands.

Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau rides with a delivery worker in Pampanga.

Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) and their affiliate unions, D’Luxe Bags Union (garments); Metroworks Union (telecommunications), Associated Philippines Seafarers Union, and Juan Wing Association of the Philippines (flight attendants) recently met with the Solidarity Center to discuss issues they face, including union busting, forced leave and non-payment of overtime. 

For their courage and persistence in the face of escalating threats to their own lives, seven delegates representing the Philippine labor movement receive the 2023 AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., including (L to R) PSLINK President Annie Enriquez Geron, ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio, BIEN President Mylene Cabalona, FFW President Sonny Matula, KMU Chairman Elmer Labog, SENTRO Secretary General Josua Mata, ALU-TUCP National President Michael “Mike” Democrito C. Mendoza. Photo: AFL-CIO

In December, seven delegates representing the Philippines labor movement received the 2023 AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in recognition of “the Philippines labor movement’s resilience, persistence and courage,” as AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said at the event. The same month, the Philippines became the first Asian country to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 190 (C190) to eliminate violence and harassment at work.

On a recent trip to the Philippines, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau met with unions and workers to hear firsthand about their advances and challenges. She also met with Senator Risa Hontiveros, a major labor ally and supporter of the labor movement’s successful campaign to convince the government to ratify International Labor Organization Convention 190 on violence and harassment. 

In a recent discussion with the Solidarity Center in Batangas, workers at a factory where automotive wiring harnesses are made said they face grueling overtime. “We work long hours with constant overtime, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” a worker said, noting they can work six hours standing on the assembly line with no rest, often for seven days a week.

Historic U.S.-Brazil Agreement Prioritizes Workers Rights

Historic U.S.-Brazil Agreement Prioritizes Workers Rights

As the United Nations met in New York this week, U.S. President Joe Biden and Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the launch of the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights. This joint commitment, if adequately resourced and executed with labor union participation, will put worker rights and decent jobs at the center of critical conversations including the transition to a clean energy economy, the role of emerging technologies, corporate accountability in supply chains, ending gender-based violence and harassment at work and other global priorities. 

Calling the agreement a landmark, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau said it “affirms respect for freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and the essential role of democratic trade unions in advancing a just and vibrant global economy.”

All photos: Solidarity Center / Brian Offidani Photography unless otherwise indicated.


As the presidents of the United States and Brazil got set to announce the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights during the United Nations meeting in New York, U.S. union leaders discussed with their Brazilian counterparts their expectations for its implementation. U.S. labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and United Steelworkers (USW) met with Brazilian leaders from Unitary Workers’ Central (CUT), General Workers’ Union (UGT), Union Force, Brazilian Unions’ Central (CSB), Brazil Workers’ Central (CTB) and the New Union Workers’ Central (NCST). Gustavo Garcia, Solidarity Center program officer, helped moderate the session.

 


Luiz Marinho, Brazil’s minister of labor and employment and Thea Lee, U.S. Department of Labor’s deputy undersecretary for international affairs, addressed a meeting with U.S. and Brazilian union leaders, officials from the U.S. government and the International Labor Organization (ILO), and representatives from the business sector. 

 


Moacyr Roberto Tesch Auersvald, NCST president, addressed representatives from the ILO and U.S. government meeting on the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights. To his right: Antonio Fernandes dos Santos Neto, CSB president and to his left, Adilson Gonçalves de Araújo, CTB national president. 

 


Stuart Appelbaum, UFCW executive vice president and RWDSU president, expressed support and solidarity to the Brazilian labor movement. He praised the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights and the efforts from all parties to make this initiative a reality.

 


Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO international affairs department director and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) deputy president, highlighted the importance of the initiative in protecting vulnerable workers, including platform workers in Brazil and the United States. 

 


Antonio Fernandes dos Santos Neto, CSB president and Moacyr Roberto Tesch Auersvald, NCST president, praised both countries’ support and cooperation to advance labor rights. They described the  U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers as a “historic moment.”

 


Members of the Brazilian labor delegation, AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center, along with Brazil Minister of Labor and Employment Luiz Marinho, visited the United Auto Workers Region 9A headquarters. President Biden stated earlier in the week: “Let me be clear, whether it’s the auto workers union or any other union worker, record corporation profits should mean record contracts for union workers.” All of Brazil’s trade union centrals have announced support for striking UAW workers. Credit: UAW

 


The ILO and the U.S. government organized a meeting with U.S. and Brazilian labor leaders and business sector representatives to discuss the impact of the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights. Joining them are Gonzalo Martinez de Vedia, Solidarity Center Brazil program director, and Lianet Rosado, Brazil program officer.

 

Bangladesh Tea Workers: ‘A Lot of Sweat for Their Work’

Bangladesh Tea Workers: ‘A Lot of Sweat for Their Work’

Tea estate workers in Sreemangal, Bangladesh, say their work is much harsher now due to increased heat and more torrential rains, endangering their health and sometimes making it impossible to reach their daily quota, cutting into their already meager wages.

An estimated 13 million people in 48 countries work on tea plantations around the world, mostly women who are paid low wages and have few or no health and safety protections. Tea plantation workers often are forced to rely on their employers for food, housing and education, adding to their vulnerability.

Workers in the Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union, a Solidarity Center partner, have achieved workplace improvements not offered at nonunion plantations, with employers required to provide daily hour-long lunch breaks and a medical facility.

Union leaders like Sreemati Bauri, a tea estate field supervisor and union leader, say more must be done–corporations in the global tea supply chain must step up to ensure decent work.

“Tea workers give a lot of sweat for their work.”

Credit: Solidarity Center / Gayatree Arun

At 10 a.m., Bangladesh tea workers begin their march across tea garden fields, where they walk long distances on their way to pick tea leaves. Each worker is assigned to pluck up to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of leaves and get paid 170 taka ($1.55) a day if they meet their quota.

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Hasan Zobayer

Shefali Rani, 35, has been a tea worker for 20 years. She has five children, all of whom studied in a primary school in the garden, where education beyond grade school is not offered.

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Gayatee Arun

Families often spend their lives living in and working on tea estates, including Bashonti Devi, 40, who, with her husband, picks tea leaves to support their three daughters and son.

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Hasan Zobayer

There is no escape to the shade for workers like Shefali Rani and Mithila Nayek on tea plantations, where the plants require direct sun and high humidity.

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Hasan Zobayer

“It often happens that in a heat wave, it’s a hardship to meet the daily quota and so they can’t make the daily wage of 170 taka ($1.55),” says Sreemati Bauri, a field supervisor and union leader. “If a worker can’t make their daily target, it’s difficult to survive. Due to the heat, it has become too hot for them to get their wage.”

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Hasan Zobayer

A Bangladesh tea worker hydrates in the scorching heat. Climate change-related hardships add to tea workers’ already harsh working conditions.

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Gayatree Arun

“The heat is more excessive than before,” says Sumon Kumar Tant, a field supervisor and union member. “It’s as if they have to carry two times the burden—one the burden of tea leaves on their back, and the other, the weight of the heat.”

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Gayatree Arun

Ram Dashee picked tea leaves for 50 years, and now works in the garden nursery. Her daughter also is a tea worker.

 

Credit: Solidarity Center / Gayatree Arun

Tea workers carry heavy bags of leaves all day as they pluck tea plants, returning to the weighing station at the end of the day with up to 55 pounds of leaves.

 

M-POWER SUMMIT: GOVERNMENTS, UNIONS UNITE AGAINST GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AT WORK

M-POWER SUMMIT: GOVERNMENTS, UNIONS UNITE AGAINST GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AT WORK

Millions of workers—most of them women—face intimidation, humiliation, physical and verbal assault, and worse on the job. A July 27, 2023, international summit in southern Africa gathered representatives from the governments of Argentina, Canada, Germany, Lesotho, Spain and the United States—along with dozens of leaders from unions, business and worker and women’s rights organizations—to highlight and advance efforts to end gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work, with a focus on southern Africa.

Hosted by the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights (M-POWER),* Lesotho Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) and Lesotho Labor Council (LLC), the daylong summit explored how governments, corporations and unions can eliminate GBVH at work, particularly by ratifying and codifying International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190) on violence and harassment, and by replicating the negotiated and binding Lesotho Agreements in supply chains elsewhere.

(Photos: Solidarity Center/Institute of Content Engineering)

OPENING SESSION

Kingdom of Lesotho Prime Minister Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane (R) greets U.S. Department of State Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Kelly M. Fay Rodríguez (L) and United States Embassy Lesotho Deputy Chief of Mission Keisha Toms.

“We are all witness to the ever-increasing instances of gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace, not only in Southern Africa but across our beloved continent,” said Prime Minister Matekane, noting that Lesotho has committed to ethical sourcing through the U.S. African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and the U.S. Millennium Challenge Compact II.

Below: Harry Nkhetse, senior facilitator and leadership coach, Tobaka Consultants, Mountain Peak Business Solutions, and summit co-emcee, with Marieke Koning, co-emcee and ITUC policy adviser.

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENTS IN ELIMINATING GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT AT WORK: C190

Eradication of GBVH is an urgent, compelling global challenge that will only be resolved when workers have the power to bring about change, for which they need rights to freedom of association and of collective bargaining, said Marieke Koning. The panel included government representatives from Argentina, Germany and Lesotho.

Collective bargaining agreements are the most effective mechanism for implementing progressive laws in Argentina’s experience, said Cecilia Cross, Argentina’s undersecretary for inclusion policies in the world of work (below left). “For Germany, the reason to ratify is that C190 sends such a strong global signal—that it really defines globally what is harassment at work,” said Dr. Anna Montén-Küchel, first secretary, labor and social affairs, German missions in South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini.

“Efforts must be made at the global level as national efforts alone are not enough to tack this issue, which knows no borders,” said Joaquín Perez Rey, Spain’s secretary of state for employment and social economy, by video. “Gender-based violence and harassment have no place in our workplace,” he added.

U.S. GLOBAL LABOR PRIORITIES

Kelly M. Fay Rodríguez described the Lesotho Agreements as a model for other employers in Lesotho and beyond, and M-POWER as a vehicle for mobilizing like-minded governments to participate. “Culture change is required to create the conditions that allow workers, their families and their communities to thrive,” she said.

HOW WORKERS AND COMPANIES ARE ADDRESSING GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT IN A GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN: FOCUS ON THE LESOTHO AGREEMENT

“I experienced so much harassment at the factory before the program at Nien Hsing was established,” said Popoti Ntebe, a UNITE member and factory worker. “Because of the high level of unemployment in our country, workers tend to be harassed because of poverty.”

THE ROLE OF TRADE UNIONS IN CREATING SAFER, FAIR AND HEALTHY WORKPLACES FREE FROM HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE

To protect rights better, unions and other activists must maximize pressure on government, said Teboho Tolo (R), LFTU president, presenting with Zingiswa Losi, president, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). “We must mobilize support!” he said.

WOMEN WORKERS’ PARTICIPATION IN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

Sethelile Ntlhakana, Lesotho field representative for Worker Rights Consortium, moderates the session. 

Gloria Kente, an organizer with the South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU), in yellow, leads fellow panelists Mathekiso Tseote, NACTWU shop steward (left); Leboela Moteban, LFTU gender focal person; Thato Sebeko, LLC member; and Puleng Selebeli, United Textile Employees (UNITE) member, in song.

“No struggle can be won without women’s participation,” said Mathekiso Tseote.

 

CLOSING STATEMENTS AND COMMITMENTS

“The world is watching; this is a precedent,” said Laura Gutierrez, AFL-CIO global worker rights coordinator, about the Lesotho Agreements. The AFL-CIO in partnership with its M-POWER colleagues wants to replicate this kind of program in the region and around the world, she said, because “M-POWER partners together recognize that in order to advance worker rights, ALL workers must have the power and ability to organize freely.”

 “We must highlight [C190’s] importance as a key instrument in bringing an end to violence and harassment at work and in particular ensuring that women have a safe place to work,” said Chris Cooter, high commissioner for Canada in South Africa, by video.

The M-POWER GBVH project’s launch in Lesotho marks the milestone that Lesotho has committed to upholding worker rights through promotion of decent work for all workers in all economic sectors, said Richard Ramoeletsi, Lesotho minister of public service, labor and employment, in closing remarks.


MORE FROM THE EVENT

* M-POWER is a historic global initiative focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy. The government of the United States and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) co-chair M-POWER, joined by steering committee members: the governments of Argentina, Canada and Spain; the International Domestic Worker Federation; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the AFL-CIO; and Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy (FORGE). Additional partners include the governments of France, Germany and South Africa, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, ProDESC, Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium.

Photo Exhibit Offers Front-Row View to Mexico’s Labor Reform

Photo Exhibit Offers Front-Row View to Mexico’s Labor Reform

To mark 25 years in Mexico, the Solidarity Center convened a forum on the country’s labor reform process and staged a photo exhibition at the Mueso Memoria y Tolerencia. The exhibit, Reflejos de Lucha: Miradas sobre el movimiento laboral en América del Norte (Reflections of Struggle: Insights into the North American Labor Movement), documents the democratization of labor relations in Mexico and the struggle of the independent labor movement for a more just and equitable global economy. Photographers Kevin Lara, Arturo Left, Ulises Vidal, Noboru Yorugi with special guest David Bacon, an author and photojournalist specializing in labor union issues, contributed work to the show.

ACCIONES

Credit: David Bacon

Credit: Arturo Left

Credit: David Bacon

Credit: Ulises Vidal

ACTORES

Credit: Kevin Lara

Credit: David Bacon

Credit: Noboru Yorugi

Credit: David Bacon

TERRITORIOS

Credit: Arturo Left

Credit: David Bacon

Credit: Kevin Lara

 

Credit: David Bacon

MAY DAY 2023: STANDING UP FOR WORKER RIGHTS ACROSS THE GLOBE

MAY DAY 2023: STANDING UP FOR WORKER RIGHTS ACROSS THE GLOBE

 

Kyrgyzstan, May Day 2023. Credit: Aizhan Ruslanbekova/Solidarity Center

Sri Lanka, May Day 2023. Credit: Prasdhini Niroshika/Solidarity Center

Philippines, May Day 2023. Credit: Andreanna Garcia/Solidarity Center

Migrant domestic workers join with their Jordanian union brothers and sisters to celebrate May Day and campaign together for equal rights and wage protections for workers regardless of citizenship status. Credit: Sara Khatib/Solidarity Center

Kyrgyzstan, May Day 2023. Credit: Aizhan Ruslanbekova/Solidarity Center

Mexico, May Day 2023. Credit: Luis Iván Stephen

Philippines, May Day 2023. Credit: Andreanna Garcia/Solidarity Center

Bangladesh, May Day 2023. Credit: BIGUF

 

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