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.

Driving Toward a Fair Future @ Work

Driving Toward a Fair Future @ Work

While the rapid increase in app-based jobs around the world offers millions of workers additional avenues to ear money, it also creates new opportunities for employer exploitation through low wages, lack of health care and an absence of job safety–and that means unions must take action, says Sarah McKenzie, Solidarity Center program coordination director.

“If we’re going to make sure that workers’ rights are upheld and that we continue to create decent workplaces, we’ve got to care. We’ve got to care about where the work is going and where the workers are,” she says. 

In the final episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast series, My Boss Is A Robot, Solidarity Center Executive Director and Podcast Host Shawna Bader-Blau speaks with two Solidarity Center union organizers to explore strategies for ensuring a decent future of work for delivery drivers and others engaged in platform-based jobs.

“Employers will continue to shift more and more toward this organization of work if they think it’s a way to avoid having to be accountable to their workers, a way to avoid labor unions,” says Andrew Tillet-Saks, Solidarity Center organizing director. “So I think in terms of trying to build the whole global labor movement, it’s really the nut that the global labor movement has to crack.”

Throughout the six-part My Boss Is a Robot series, app-based drivers and experts highlight the precarity of work through platforms, where algorithms are the new face of an old scourge: the bad boss. Download this episode and the full My Boss Is a Robot series here or at Spotify, Amazon, Stitcher or wherever you subscribe to your favorite podcasts.

Grab Riders in Metro Manila Strike Against Unjust Fare Decrease

Grab Riders in Metro Manila Strike Against Unjust Fare Decrease

In the Philippines, 200 Grab Food Delivery Riders, through the National Union of Food Delivery Riders (RIDERS-SENTRO), waged a one-day strike October 25 to protest a fare decrease scheduled to start that day.

Grab’s new rate will reduce the base fare from 45 pesos to 35 pesos per order (from 79 cents to 61 cents), and the per kilometer compensation from 10 pesos to 7 pesos (from 18 cents to 12 cents). 

The drivers turned off their apps and held a unity ride around the Quezon Memorial Circle in metro Manila, with signs on their motorcycle delivery boxes demanding higher fares and fairly calculated compensation. Grab riders also are seeking comprehensive insurance coverage, social protections and union recognition.  

“If the goal of this new fare matrix is to ease the burden on Grab’s customers, it should not come at the expense of the platform’s riders,” Philippines Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a video statement supporting the delivery riders.

The rally is the second in a week, with more than 80 drivers and their union protesting on October 19 at the Boy Scout Circle in Metro Manila. 

Some riders who took part in the rallies reported that their Grab accounts were suspended or terminated, and RIDERS-SENTRO is planning legal action seeking to reinstate them. Several drivers in Pampanga were unjustly fired late last year following a worker rights rally they attended as drivers formed the Pampanga chapter of the National Union of Delivery Riders (RIDERS). They appealed the decision to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the case is ongoing.

App-Based Drivers Advocate for Safe Jobs, Better Wages

Despite the challenges helping delivery drivers form unions—drivers have no single workplace and platform companies refuse to acknowledge they are employers so as to avoid fair compensation—RIDERS-SENTRO, a Solidarity Center partner, has made big gains

(SENTRO General Secretary Josua Mata and John Jay Chan, a driver and union organizer, discuss how they are mobilizing drivers on the latest My Boss Is a Robot Solidarity Center Podcast episode.)

In just over a year, the union established four chapters of delivery drivers in multiple cities and islands and is organizing drivers in another 15 cities. Drivers are also engaging with local and national governments and, together with their union, crafted a Charter of Rights that lists basic rights for gig workers: a minimum wage, a written contract, health or accident insurance, and access to the country’s social security services. The Senate is now considering the bill. 

Drivers also successfully advocated for a local ordinance in Cebu City to create free outdoor “riders’ hubs” in commercial outlets with seating and parking to offer drivers shelter from heat and rain.

Tech Discrimination: The New Way We Work?

Tech Discrimination: The New Way We Work?

Ride share drivers face many job-based hazardsand for women, the dangers are compounded by sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Women app-based workers also are disproportionately targeted by what law scholar Veena Dubal has termed “algorithmic discrimination.”

“The structure of the wage-setting process, the structure of the algorithms, tends to recreate traditional forms of discrimination. Again, replicating the gender wage gap,” Dubal tells Solidarity Center Executive Director and Podcast Host Shawna Bader-Blau on the latest episode of “My Boss Is a Robot.” 

Algorithmic bosses turn the traditional employment model on its headand not in a good way.

“Uber’s own research shows that people who work longer hours actually earn less per hour,” says Dubal, a law professor, University of California, San Francisco College of Law.

“All of these sort of basic ideas about work are being disrupted invisibly by algorithmic wage setting processes that could very easily spread to other sectors of the economy, disrupting traditional ideas of how wages should be and are set, and really disconnecting work from security in a way that’s quite dystopian.”

Tech Discrimination: The New Way We Work, explores what this new model means for gig workers–and how it could shape a new world of work where how much we are paid, how many hours we will work and what our job will be day to day are completely out of our control.

My Boss Is a Robot” is a six-part series that seeks to shine a light on the behind-the-scenes practices of app companies who exploit workers in the global gig economy. Download the latest episode, Tech Discrimination: The New Way We Work? and watch for the next episode on October 25.

Listen to this episode and all Solidarity Center episodes here or at SpotifyAmazonStitcher or wherever you subscribe to your favorite podcasts.

Kyrgyz App-Based Drivers Win First Agreement with Employer

Kyrgyz App-Based Drivers Win First Agreement with Employer

App-based drivers in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, achieved a historic milestone by negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement with a leading platform-based transportation company, Osh Taxi.

The September 29 pact, negotiated by the Kabylan union, extends beyond union members to cover all 2,000 drivers in the taxi fleet. It provides strong safety and health protections, including prevention of gender-based violence and harassment, and protects drivers’ rights against labor violations like unjust employer fines.

“The signing of the collective agreement is a highly important event that signifies a pivotal moment in our union’s history since its establishment,” says Kabylan President Ulan Cholponbaev. “This agreement has set an outstanding precedent for labor relations between taxi companies and workers, serving as a valuable tool for safeguarding the labor rights of drivers.”

App-based drivers started mobilizing several years ago to get the same rights and protections as workers covered by Kyrgyz law, and recently formed the Kabylan union, which now has 3,000 members.

The agreement also covers such areas as unjust suspension of drivers on the platform and gender discrimination, and includes a comprehensive set of measures and policies aimed at creating a work environment free from harassment and violence.

“Our union brings improvements, not for us only, but for the next generation, too,” says driver and Kabylan member Gulmayram Batirbekova. A single mother of five, she has become an active leader in Kabylan, which she says is named after an animal “that is fiercely independent, a leader.”

Kabylan Expands Outreach

Drivers and their union began the process in March, and the contract followed formalization of a social partnership agreement between Kabylan and Osh Taxi. The foundational agreement laid the groundwork for negotiations that led to the comprehensive collective agreement.

Kabylan also provides legal assistance for taxi drivers in Osh, the country’s second largest city, and throughout the southern region, with the union’s lawyer holding more than 30 consultations on workers’ rights each month.

The union is getting set to sign a second collective agreement with CARS.KG, another prominent taxi company that employs 400 taxi drivers.

Although most countries have hard-won labor laws in place, app-based drivers and 2 billion informal sector workers have few legal protections. A new six-part Solidarity Center Podcast series, “My Boss Is a Robot,” takes you on a journey with app-based drivers as they navigate a system that is programmed to exploit workers in the global gig economy. Download it here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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