Among the world’s worst for workers | Inquirer Opinion

Among the world’s worst for workers

/ 05:03 AM June 16, 2024

The murders of two prominent trade unionists last year have earned the Philippines ignominy as one of the 10 worst countries in the world for workers. Red-tagging, abductions, arbitrary arrests, and violence resulting in death, such as in the case of Alex Dolorosa and Jude Thaddeus Fernandez, were factors why the country was ranked for the eighth consecutive year among the 10 worst globally by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)—a shameful record for a government that has promised to champion the rights of Filipino workers under the “Bagong Pilipinas” rebranding.

Last Sunday’s editorial on a new law protecting the rights of television and movie workers may have been a positive development—though implementation has yet to be seen—but the fact remains that majority of Filipino workers across different sectors continue to suffer from unfair labor practices ranging from low wages, lack of security of tenure, and the curtailment of their rights to freedom of association or to organize. These conditions have prevailed despite the many flowery promises made by leaders past and present to improve their plight.

The accountability, however, should not be entirely placed on the current administration. The previous administration, through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) formed in 2018, was notorious for Red-tagging and launching violent attacks on rights defenders. “Workers and unions in the Philippines remained at the mercy of Red-tagging (being blacklisted by the government as a communist subversive and branded an extremist), violence, abductions, and arbitrary arrests,” said ITUC in its country profile on the Philippines.

Climate of fear

It said the government “fostered a climate of fear and persecution, silencing the collective voice of workers. Workers across many sectors still faced significant obstacles when attempting to form trade unions.”


ITUC’s Global Rights Index 2024 report released on June 12 gave the Philippines a rating of 5 on a scale of 1 (sporadic violation of rights) to 5+ (no guarantee of rights due to the breakdown of the rule of law). This rating, which means “no guarantee of rights” for workers despite the enactment of laws, was unchanged from last year and was based on violations recorded annually from April to March.

No arrest has been made so far in the April 2023 murder of Dolorosa, a call center organizer who was among those who filed complaints against forced overtime in May 2019 and was found to have been stabbed multiple times. Fernandez, an organizer from the Kilusang Mayo Uno, on the other hand, was shot dead in September 2023, during a police raid in Binangonan, Rizal.

Right to strike

Police justified the shooting due to Fernandez’s resistance to a search warrant even though he was unarmed; he was the 72nd victim of labor-related killings since July 2016.

Workers’ rights are enshrined in the 1987 Constitution with Section 3 on labor guaranteeing rights to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations, and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law. However, ITUC observed that these rights are “strictly regulated” and that there is no adequate means to protect workers from anti-union discrimination.


It further cited Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 signed by then President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020 as “gravely undermin[ing] civil liberties and endanger[ing] rights at work by placing workers, trade union activists, and other human rights actors and defenders under pressure from the police, the military, and other security forces and expose them to more arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate and baseless attacks, harassment, intimidation, and killings.”

Oppressive measures

Terrorism, under RA 11479, can include acts resulting in any damage to a public facility, private property, and infrastructure or intimidation of the public—a rather broad definition, which ITUC said, could place workers in danger of being caught even when engaging in peaceful and legitimate trade union activity.


Rights defenders including United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan have earlier made calls to repeal RA 11479 and abolish NTF-Elcac. But President Marcos has rejected such proposals, particularly the latter, saying that “it is not the government doing the Red-tagging” even though records prove otherwise. The Ombudsman even reprimanded former NTF-Elcac officials Lorraine Badoy and Antonio Parlade Jr. last year in an administrative case related to Red-tagging.

Filipino workers are known globally to be hardworking and resourceful—they should be protected, their skills enhanced and promoted, instead of their rights being curtailed. The government, if it truly wants to champion workers’ rights, needs to undo the oppressive measures that have created a toxic and violent environment. This is the only way to remove the country from the dishonor of being among the worst in the world for workers.

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