Category Archives: statement

NUWHRAIN-Dusit Hotel Nikko Chapter Opposes Supreme Court Associate Justice Carpio Morales’ nomination as Ombudsman

In a letter to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the Dusit Nikko Chapter of the APL- and IUF-affiliated National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN) vehemently opposed the inclusion of Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales in the list of candidates for the position of Ombudsman.

The group’s intractable opposition to her nomination as Ombudsman is based on the palpable and consistent anomalies with regard to the case of the 92DusitThani Hotel Workers, who are now seeking justice against the decision of the Supreme Court Second Division on G.R. No. 163942 dated November 11, 2008 or commonly known as “The Dusit Case”.

While Justice Presbitero Velasco was the ponente, Morales was among the five (5) Associate Justices who rendered the decision on the abovementioned case against the 92 former Dusit Hotel workers. The decisionof the 2nd Division, has in fact turned topsy-turvy the customary concepts of a strike, which – as any new union member who had undergone a basic labor seminar knows and as any law student who attended labor law class knows – is very much different from a picket. The Velasco ruling is clearly a form of “judicial legislation,” because the SC in effect, amended the statutory definition of “strike” when it deemed the shaving of one’s hair to amount to an “illegal strike”!

More than 20 labor federations and unions intervened in the case and repeatedly filed motions for reconsiderations because of the implications of this sordid decision of the Second Division. It is, in fact, expressly stipulated in Article VIII, Section 4 (3) of the 1987 Constitution, which says that when there’s a doctrinal or constitutional issues involved, it must be reviewed or resolved by the Supreme Court en banc.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association wherein the DusitThani Hotel case was one of the 8 cases investigated by the ILO High Level Mission in September 2009, in its 358th report dated November 2010, found that the Philippine Government violated ILO Conventions 87 and 98, to wit:

“862. The Committee considers that…generally, a strike is a temporary work stoppage (slowdown) willfully effected by one or more groups of workers. In the present case, while shaving their heads, the employees had not stopped working. The Committee considers that equating the mere expression of discontent, peacefully and lawfully exercised, with a strike per se results in a violation of the freedom of association and expression.”

Justice Carpio-Morales and the rest of the 2nd Division refused to rule on that fundamental issue, even as the same was brought to her attention many times-at the risk of the lawyers being held in contempt.

She approved the February 9, 2009 Resolution denying the Motion for Reconsideration even though the Second Division was not validly constituted for lack of one member. Associate Justice Ruben Reyes retired on January 2, 2009 and his replacement had not been designated as of February 9, 2009.

The Minute Resolution dated February 9, 2009 included Associate Justice Ruben Reyes as one of the justices who decided on the Motion for Reconsideration even if he retired a month earlier on January 02, 2009. Division Clerk of Court Ludichi Yasay-Nunag later admitted that Justice Ruben Reyes did not participate in the approval of the Resolution as the latter already retired. There is no doubt then that said Resolution is null and void because there was no Second Division to speak of. The Constitution requires the Supreme Court to sit in a Division of five.

Despite repeated Motion for Reconsideration and raised in issue the validity of the February 9, 2009 Resolution for lack of a fifth member, again just like the earlier constitutional issue, the Second Division REFUSED TO DECIDE on the issue.

Her participation in the assailed resolution casts a shadow of doubt on Associate Justice ConchitaCarpio Morales integrity and competence which the position of the Ombudsman requires and demands! said Larry Javier the Vice President of NUWHRAIN-DHNC.

Javier further stated she had countless opportunities to address this issue. Apparently, she saw no reason to address a fundamental constitutional issue, even one which destroyed the livelihoods and throw away the years of service by ordinary workers and one which threatens that of many workers other than those from DusitThani Hotel.

A Supreme Court Justice who cannot understand that four (4) is less than five (5) should not be allowed to become an Ombudsman.

A Supreme Court Justice who refused to recognize the fact that January 2, 2009 actually occurred before February 9, 2009 should not be allowed to become an Ombudsman!

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It’s Time for Decent Work for Domestic Workers!

Domestic workers are the biggest sector of workers in the world who are not protected by an international convention. That could change in June: it all depends on whether at least two-thirds of the representatives of governments, employers and trade unionists gathered at this year’s International Labour Conference (ILC) vote in favor of the Domestic Workers Convention 2011.

Held in Singapore on 23-25 April, ‘Towards an ILO Convention: Building a strong Asian solidarity and delegation to the 2011 International Labour Conference was a chance for domestic workers, representatives of national and regional NGOs, trade unions and domestic workers’ organisations from the region to discuss how to help make it happen. The consultation was attended by around 70 people from 12 countries and territories: Belgium, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan.

We welcomed the ‘Blue Report’ produced by the International Labour Organisation. It sets out the text of the draft convention and recommendations – the result of an extended process of study and discussions at the national, regional, and international levels. When adopted, it will establish an international yardstick of basic standards concerning decent work for domestic workers and could be the basis for adopting and changing national laws. When ratified by member states and applied, it should do much to raise the status of domestic workers and ensure respect for their rights.

We are determined to do all that we can to encourage support for the convention in these final few weeks before the crucial ILC vote.

This year’s ILC session will be the 100th, a fitting occasion on which to pass a landmark convention that reflects its core values. It will also mark the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day.

We strongly urge the governments, workers’ organisations and employers’ organisations of our region to put their support behind the Convention. Decent Work for Domestic Workers should go from being an aspiration to being the observed and accepted standard.

Signed by:

Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
Alliance of Progressive Labor – Hong Kong
Asian Migrant Centre (AMC)
Asian Migrant Domestic Workers’ Alliance (ADWA)
Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA)
Coalition for Migrants’ Rights (CMR)
Federasi Serikat Pekerja Metal Indonesia (FSPMI)
Federation of Free Workers (FFW)
General Federation Of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT)-Nepal
Global Network-Asia
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU)
Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union (FADWU)
Hope Workers’ Center (HWC)
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME)
Indian Academy Self Employed Women Association (SEWA)
International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN)
Indonesian Family Network (IFN)
International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) – Asia Pacific
International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC)
Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union (IMWU)
Indonesia National Network for Domestic Workers’ Advocacy (JALA PRT)
Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia (KSPI)
Konfederasi Serikat Buruh Sejahtra Indonesia (KSBSI)
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)
Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN)
Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW)
Migrant Care
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)
Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia (SBMI)
Samahan at Ugnayan ng Manggagawang Pantahanan sa Pilipinas (SUMAPI)
Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers
Think Center-Singapore Working Group on Migrant Workers
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)
Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP)
Visayan Forum Foundation Inc.

Justice for Dusit Hotel Workers! Reverse the “Hoy Kalbo Tanggal ka sa Trabaho!” doctrine of the Velasco decision!

While we are supposed to be a democratic society, our constitutional right to freedom of expression and association in the context of labor relations is being eroded by the decision of Justice Presbitero Velasco of the Philippine Supreme Court. Not only it is anomalous but also unconstitutional. Support the quest for justice of the 90 Dusit Hotel workers. They are not only fighting for themselves but for the rights of every worker in the Philippines who will be affected by the said decision of Justice Velasco. Support the reversal of the Hoy Kalbo, Tanggal ka sa Trabaho doctrine of the Supreme Court!

For more information, visit:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hoy-Kalbo-Tanggal-ka-sa-Trabaho/147982591890520
and sign an online petition.

Labor Center’s May Day report: P-Noy is failing on his ‘pet programs’ vs poverty, corruption, etc.

REMEMBER the famous and catchy “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” (rough translation: “If there is no corrupt, there will be no poor people”) slogan of then candidate Noynoy Aquino during the campaign for the presidential election last year?

Although it is naïve or simplistic to claim that poverty will disappear if corruption will be eradicated, that electoral jingle was nonetheless very effective not only due to its plain message but also to the pledge that it implies – that the administration of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III will simultaneously fight the rampant and worsening poverty and corruption.

But even this early or two full months before his first year in office, the Alliance of Progressive Labor said that this is already enough to gauge the direction or tendencies of the Aquino government: that it has miserably failed to keep its avowed promises.

Corruption has deteriorated with the country landing again in third spot in the entire Asia by scoring 8.9 – with 10 being the worst, from a scale of one to 10 – based from a survey called Asian Intelligence Report held from November last year to February this year. Beating the Philippines – with a slightly “better” previous score of 8.25 – were Cambodia (9.27) and Indonesia (9.25).

It was conducted among top expatriate business executives in Asia by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. (PERC).

The PERC specifically cited the country as “perhaps, the Asian country that has been hurt most by corruption,” noting that “(i)f one looked at the end of World War II as the starting point for modern Asia, the Philippines today should be the richest economy on a per capita basis in Asia and a leader in many fields.”

It is almost the same in the global level as shown in the annual report of Transparency International (TI), with the Philippines notching a 2.4 score – with 1 as “highly corrupt” and 10 “very clean,” as opposed to PERC scale – for two straight years now, and placing 139th among 180 countries in 2009 and 134th among 178 countries last year.

Likewise, both the perceived and actual poverty has continued unabated to this very day – despite the boasts of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of accomplishing “36 quarters (or nine years, January 2001-June 2010) of uninterrupted economic growth” and Aquino’s attaining the “highest economic growth in 34 years” or from 1.1 percent GDP (gross domestic product) in 2009 to 7.3 percent in 2010, mostly in the last half of the year or under the helm of P-Noy.

Even the 1st Quarter 2011 Survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) held on March 4 to 7 has confirmed the escalating economic hardship of the majority when it indicated that more than one in five Filipino families or 20.5 percent of the respondents have undergone “involuntary hunger” at least once in the past three months.

It is equivalent to an estimated 4.1 million families or about 20.5 million individuals (based on the average five-member Filipino family), and an increase from 18.1 percent or 3.4 million families or around 17 million people recorded in a similar survey last November 2010.

While 51 percent of the respondents in the said survey considered themselves as “poor,” representing 10.4 million families or approximately 52 million people – a hike from the 49 percent result in November.

In addition, the said SWS survey bared that 40 percent of the respondents or 8.1 million families or about 40 million people believed themselves as “food-poor,” up from 36 percent last November.

At any rate, even the conservative government statistics acknowledged that the number of poor Filipinos – in spite of the said bragging of both Arroyo and Aquino – has swelled from 25.5 million people in 2001 to over 30 million last year.

There are other studies that yet put the number of impoverished Filipinos to as much as 2/3 or at least 70 percent of the Philippine population, which already reached to 94 million in 2010.

“Jobless growth” is one of the terms that economists describe this type of economic “development,” which is characterized by its failure to equitably redistribute income or at least – to use a classic capitalist cliché – to “trickle-down” the wealth to the majority of the citizens.

And as the term denotes, in a jobless growth there is a proliferation of generally poor quality jobs or a rapid surge in the ranks of contractual or non-regular workers, which is in fact happening today, the APL said.

A study by a leading local research institution disclosed that between 1995 and 2005, the Philippine contractual labor has “soared from 65 percent to as much as 78 percent of the country’s labor force.”

Significantly, contractuals and the like – casuals, probationaries, apprentices, seasonals, OJT (on-the-job) trainees, practicumers, pakyawan, etc. – are usually low-paid, lack many benefits, have no security of tenure, and banned from joining trade unions and thus are not covered by CBAs or CNAs.

They encompass even the so-called “highly-paid” (but with unstable wages and benefits) staff in the burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, especially the call center agents, precisely because most of them are hired as contractual employees or based on a specific project only.

Related from this are the still distinct two groups of workers, the self-employed and unpaid family workers – designated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as belonging to “vulnerable employment sector” – that are quickly rising in number.

Also referred to as the “informal sector,” the ILO described them as being deprived of even the basic elements of “decent employment,” like minimum wage as well as “social security, health benefits and recourse to social dialogue or effective collective bargaining mechanisms.”

Even the data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) conceded that “vulnerable workers” have steadily grown from 13.5 million in 2004 to 14.9 million in 2009 or a staggering 42.6 percent of the 35 million “employed” in that year. It further expanded to more than 15 million of the 36 million “employed” or nearly half of the 39 million labor force last year.

There is still a separate and even more pathetic and exploited class of workers called by the ILO as “working poor people” – those who earn less than $2 or below P100 a day – and in the Philippines has multiplied from 7.9 million in 2003 to at least 9 million in 2009 or a shocking 30 percent of the total “employed” in that year.

As if these are not enough, the costs of basic commodities and services have recently and uncontrollably skyrocketed. For instance, prices of petroleum products, particularly gasoline and diesel, have increased more than 12 times from January to April causing a domino effect in actual or planned hikes in LPG rates, transport fares, electricity and water bills, toll gate fees, prices of various food items, and many others, which will obviously affect more the majority poor than the few rich.

The problem is, aside from the real oil price hikes in the world market – triggered by the catastrophes in Japan and the continuing social upheavals in the Middle East and in North Africa, specifically in Libya – the undue surge of prices of local petroleum products is caused more by “predatory pricing” led by the “Big 3” oil cartel of Petron Corp., Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Philippines Inc. (formerly Caltex).
Even the Department of Energy (DOE) has grudgingly admitted that at least the fuel price hikes during the Holy Week – first exposed by journalist Jessica Soho and later satirized as “Oily Week” by the Philippine Daily Inquirer – “were more than what was warranted” (read: not justified).

This relentless price hikes coupled with greedy profiteering have further diminished the purchasing power or the real amount of the already low salaries of most of the Philippine workers. For example, according to a study by a reputable research institution, the current P404 minimum – and nominal – wage of workers in Metro Manila is actually equivalent to P253.43 only today by using 2000 as the standard base year and considering changes in inflation.

Furthermore, the same study demonstrated that in so short a time since Aquino was inaugurated as president on June 30 and until as recently as February this year – the real value of the Filipino workers’ already meager wage has been sliced by as much as P7!

In a nutshell, the APL asserted that the Filipino and Filipina workers have not enjoyed any significant gain since P-Noy assumed the presidency. His continued although still discreet promotion of unfettered neoliberal programs – liberalization, deregulation and privatization – will exacerbate poverty and misery of the vast majority in the Philippines, especially the working people.

Unions call for impeachment of Gutierrez, some SC justices

AFTER a growing clamor to impeach some Supreme Court justices who allegedly delay the impeachment suit against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, several labor groups have also called for the ouster from the high court of anti-union magistrates, led by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr.

“It is high time to cleanse the supposedly anti-graft court of the Ombudsman as well as the venerable Supreme Court not only from crooks in robes and protector of robbers and tyrants, such as the erstwhile Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime, but also from the lackeys of unscrupulous employers,” the affiliate organizations of the Alliance of Progressive Labor announced.

The APL member unions cited Velasco’s leading role as the ponente or writer of the infamous “shaved heads are illegal strike” ruling in the Dusit Hotel Nikko case, which “dangerously altered the meaning of strike and threatened many labor and trade union rights and even basic civil liberties.”

Handed down by the Second Division of the Supreme Court in November 2008, the Velasco ruling set off howls of protests from across labor spectrum and prompted an investigation by the International Labor Organization, through its Committee on Freedom of Association.

Last November, the ILO Committee released its findings and recommendations that, though coated with diplomatic and prudent words, were essentially a rebuke of the actions of Dusit versus its protesting workers and the Supreme Court verdict as well.

In particular, the ILO suggested to the Philippine government to ensure its adherence to ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining), which the country has ratified as early as 1953 and which have both emerged as focal issues in the Dusit case.

The Dusit workers were forced to stage a picket – which is different from a full-blown strike – in January 2002 after they were prevented by the hotel from reporting for work after many male staff cropped their hairs in protest of the obviously dilatory tactics of management in the collective bargaining talks, which had dragged on for about 15 months already.

On January 26, 2002 Dusit terminated 90 of the workers, including 29 union officers of the Nuwhrain-Dusit Hotel Nikko Chapter that virtually decimated the union leadership, and suspended 136 other employees, among them women and other males who did not even cut their hairs but were union members.

Unfortunately, the National Labor Relations Commission and later the Eight Division of the Court of Appeals both favored the Dusit actions pushing the case to the Supreme Court.

However, the highly anomalous rulings of the NLRC and the CA’s 8th Division could have been rectified – which could have revived the people’s trust to the judiciary – when the Dusit case was elevated to the Supreme Court; but its Second Division not only affirmed the earlier glaringly flawed decisions, it had even further legitimized and reinforced them, while adding new and paradoxical legal doctrines, the APL said.

The Velasco ruling declared that when the workers “violated” the Dusit “grooming standards,” it caused disruptions in the hotel operations and thus tantamount to an “unprotected” mass action or not sanctioned by law and “should be considered as an illegal strike.”

It also asserted that when the employees went to work with shaven heads, there was “clearly a deliberate and concerted action to undermine the authority of and to embarrass” Dusit and “therefore, not a protected action” – again.

These and other “outrageous reasoning” cited in the Dusit ruling are described by the APL as “sadly and embarrassingly now part of the Philippine jurisprudence as G.R. 163942 and G.R. 166295.”

The NUWHRAIN-DHNC and later by at least 20 other different labor organizations filed several motions – for reconsideration and to intervene (MRs and MIs) – for the Supreme Court to review en banc the Velasco ruling especially since the latter has wide-ranging effects on the current labor, civil and constitutional rights, including the very basic freedom of speech and expression, thus warranting an automatic reappraisal of the entire high court, the APL said.

But all the MRs and MIs were quickly rejected by the Supreme Court’s Second Division forcing the petitioners as well as an allied trade union group abroad to file two related complaints in 2009 to the said ILO body in Geneva. Moreover, according to the then SC’s Clerk of Court, one of those who participated in the drafting and signing of the Feb. 9, 2009 resolution denying the MR was Associate Justice Ruben Reyes, who already retired a little over a month earlier or on Jan. 2. The Dusit union later filed disbarment case against Reyes.

G20: A Threat to Peoples’ Economic and Political Rights!

The G20 and its global economic agenda are an affront and a threat to people’s rights and welfare.

The detention and deportation of Filipino activists from Seoul and the harassment and intimidation of a number of other activists at the hands of Korean immigration authorities are manifestations of the undemocratic and anti-people nature of the G20 and further exposed the illegitimacy of this group of self-proclaimed caretakers of the global economy.

The protests and mobilizations in Korea of tens of thousands of people in clear defiance of the Korean governments security measures, is an indication of a clear disconnect between the agenda of the governments of the G20 countries and the interests and aspirations of their people.

The G20 Summit in Korea was supposed to address the issue of the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the wake of the global economic crisis. The G20’s prescriptions for economic recovery and development, however, anchored on the perpetuation of a flawed corporate driven, export-oriented development model would further exacerbate poverty and inequality and undermine social cohesion across the world.

The whole point of the Peoples Conference in Korea, and the reason why the deported Filipino activists came to Korea, is to articulate the peoples’ opposition and resistance to the G20 and to collectively discuss and put forward alternatives to the failed model of development that the G20 is so desperately trying to preserve.

We say NO to the G20 and the policies that continue to threaten jobs and peoples livelihoods, and erode workers’ rights and welfare;

We say NO to the G20 and policies that cause the expulsion and repatriation of migrants in the name of restrictive and Draconian migration policies and rules;

We say NO to the G20 and the policies that use women as safety nets in crisis, and is blind to the differential decision-making powers in the household and economy in general;

We speak out against the free trade agenda and the push of the G20 governments for more ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreements disguised as economic partnerships but are really instruments of economic domination and control by the rich over the poor within and across countries and regions;

We speak out against the development agenda of the G20 which threatens peoples’ right to food, destroys the environment, and perpetuates unequal access and control over natural resources in support of the profit-driven motives of corporations;

We say NO to the G20. It does not represent the interests of the peoples of the world and it cannot speak on our behalf.

We call on the peoples of the world to come together against the G20 and to intensify the struggle for a better and more just and peaceful world.

Action for Economic Reforms (AER)
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
Aniban mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP)
Focus on the Global South
Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC)
Jubilee South – APMDD
KAISA-KA
Kilusang Mangingisda
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center
Migrants Forum for Asia (MFA)
Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ)
Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS)
World March of Women – Pilipinas

The 6th ASEAN People’s Forum: Towards a People-Centered Labor Relations and Economic Integration1 a Joint Statement

by the Alliance of Progressive Labor and Labor Education and Research Network

PART I – Harmonizing Labor Advocacies: a Challenge for Southeast Asian Civil Society and People’s Organizations

The Philippine Labor movement remains vigilant in ensuring that intergovernmental agents and national governments who are involved in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) processes and community-building endeavors cope with the exigencies of the time. As the ASEAN People’s Forum resumes on the 23rd to 26th of September 2010, progressive workers’ organizations led by the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) and the Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN) aim to project to the larger Asian community the struggles, feats and aspirations of the labor sector in the Philippines and protect the 280 million plus workers in ASEAN especially in the context of stronger neo-liberal globalization policies, the aftermath of the global financial crisis, growing complexity in migration patterns, and economic integration. It is imperative that Philippine labor groups, being the relatively oldest in the whole of Asia, provide the democratic impetus for a region-wide labor agenda.

Accordingly, there is a need to harmonize strategies, advocacies, legislative agenda and action plans among Southeast Asian civil society and non-government organizations towards the pursuit of a people-centered labor relations and economic integration in the Southeast Asian Region. Elsewhere in the world, there are calls for social and economic reforms vis-à-vis labor issues.

In Southeast Asia, however, things are more lucid: there is a need for a consistent and concerted action among people’s organizations in order to demarcate the lines between a humanist and society-centered behavior of labor, financial, production means, and commodities markets and a neo-liberal globalist and capitalistic market competition and multilateral cooperation. Questions however persist as to how the Philippine progressive labor centers can rally the quiescent giant, that is, the ASEAN labor movement.

The labor force of ASEAN is still characterized by its weak and loose social movement base despite the improvements in immigration and communications technology. Worse, “governments are framing migration, given the billions of remittances involved, as an instrument of development putting labor at the mercy of the global market – [n]ot only are workers commoditized through the labor-export policies of states but are likewise being traded at bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.”2 Thus far, the Philippine labor movement can boast of its wide range of policy pursuits with emphasis on three major schemes. First, there is a growing opposition to race to the bottom neo-liberal globalization policies on labor.

Instead of acceding to unfair trade and economic policies and agreements, the government should guarantee the right of workers to land secure and quality jobs. At the last count, 2.83 million Filipinos (out of the 30 million labor force) are unemployed and the unemployment rate has been growing from 2007, the year that the global financial crisis struck. As a result, the previous Arroyo administration responded with a policy of “exporting” labor services and even made an absurd effort to include overseas employment in local employment statistics! We need to reduce the incidence of migration out of necessity by securing local employment and improving the workers’ rights.

In line with this, states need to adopt a coherent industrial policy beyond encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs), implement infant industry protection (and therefore “selective” liberalization) and encourage regional cooperation (instead of competition in terms of producing similar low-value added products and raw materials). These initiatives, however, should be made without compromising the agenda of full employment and increased social protection for all. Second, there are calls for improving labor justice in the Philippines as well as strengthening the protection of labor and trade union rights. For instance, a bill was signed in Congress that would seek to control and/or regulate contractualization and flexibilization of labor in the country.

As a larger goal, Philippine progressive labor groups in their unity statement3 also want the government to apply ILO Conventions No. 87, which concerns Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and No. 98, which concerns the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively. Lastly, there exist social networks that aim at protecting the civil and political rights of workers with the main goal of conducting an impartial and full investigation of violations of all trade union and human rights. This is to address the prevailing view that the labor justice in the Philippines is slow and litigious and oftentimes produces results that are largely in favor of employers. In reaching all of these goals, the APL and LEARN believe that alternatives to statist and capitalist labor relations and regional integration should be reconciled with the objective of making ASEAN a genuinely people-oriented association (though a motley collection) of states – alternatives that should be worked out hand in hand by Southeast Asian civil society and people’s organizations.

PART II – On ASEAN’s “Character” Change: From Being a “Clublike” Association of States Pursuing their Individual Interests to a More People- and Society-based Regional Grouping

The ASEAN has to accept the challenge of pursuing and not just recognizing the importance of job creation, development of the quality of the workforce and provision of social security to the workers as stated in its founding documents. In doing so, it has to seek higher ends that cut across borders while at the same time zeroing in on the needs of each country’s domestic socio-political realities.

In this line of thought, may we remind that in five years’ time, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations’ Development Programme will be due. Calls for the governments of ASEAN, especially the Philippines, to double their time in meeting the goals have thus become louder. Of these MDGs, Goal 8, that is, to develop a global partnership for development, impacts on ASEAN regional engagements. It is not a very recent phenomenon that the pursuit of free trade agreements (FTA) has been at the center of ASEAN’s approach to economic integration.

ASEAN even plans to (i) liberalize trade and investments; (ii) facilitate trade and harmonize rules; and (iii) strengthen mechanisms for cooperation among the parties. This has been regarded as a major roadmap towards narrowing the economic development gap within the region. However, as there should be more reasons for ASEAN to raise its people-centered consciousness and sustainability, the targets that fall under the MDG 8 should provide clarity and redirection to the aims of ASEAN in the next five years.

These targets temporally coincide with the ASEAN’s economic growth and development paradigm, which aims to create a single market and production base with free flow of goods, services and investments by 2015. As such, ASEAN’s view should be based on the targets of the MDG 8 which are: 1) to develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system; 2) to address the special needs of the least developed, land-locked, and small island developing countries; 3) to deal comprehensively with debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long-run; and 4) in cooperation with developing as well as developed countries, create and implement strategies for decent and productive work for the youth.4 Nevertheless, LEARN and APL, in cooperation with relevant social sectors, want to see ASEAN as an entity that is not only able to establish lasting relationships based on “fair” trade, economic and diplomatic integration and investment but also as a potent force in ensuring that poverty at the regional level will be reduced come the 2015 deadline for attaining the MDGs.5 Individual countries cannot do this alone.

Besides, it is not just the workers of individual states who are affected by poverty and its diverse consequences but their families and societies as a whole, including Southeast Asian groupings. Without any compromise on this matter, the labor sector wants to engage ASEAN leaders, through the APF, in making a people-oriented regional economic integration be in line and work with a humanist and society-centered poverty alleviation prospect of the MDGs by 2015. Specifically, we call for the review and renegotiation of foreign trade agreements that impact negatively on the welfare of Southeast Asian people.

Measures should be taken by ASEAN to address the negative externalities, social cost and policy loopholes of agreements that were concluded by ASEAN members with China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and India – so much the same with its recently launched negotiations with the European Union and explored long term economic partnership with the United States.6 As far as the development banks and international financial institutions (the likes of Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are very notorious in setting up hostile “conditionalities”) are concerned, precise measures should be taken so as to prevent ASEAN-member countries from succumbing to unfair economic and political policies as well as falling into the trap of foreign debt servicing.7 As much as possible, ASEAN should create a review committee that can handle cost-benefit analyses of ASEAN FTAs, foreign aid and developmental lending and make recommendations for aborting any engagements proven to be detrimental to the majority of people. Assuming that “fair” trade can still be plausible at the regional level and in dealings with non-ASEAN members, efforts should be exerted in such a way that a) long-term development that accrue to trade agreements is ensured and b) parameters and conditions are set and clarified, respectively. Such actions will not be violative of ASEAN’s core values of compromise and consensus in a spirit of constructiveness and mutual respect for relevant stakeholders can bring their issues to the committee. There is just a need to relax the established norm of non-interference in the internal affairs of individual states.

LEARN and APL believe that workers in the ASEAN should work towards:

1.Consolidating a workers’ vision of an alternative regionalism that is not dependent on any imperial project. A regional cooperation where ASEAN countries have: a regional industrial policy and a common agricultural policy; a regional trade policy, consistent with its industrial and agricultural policies; and an ASEAN Development Fund that would help ASEAN countries to veer away from IMF, WB and ADB;

2.Pushing for an ASEAN Social Charter;

3.Developing a strong autonomous workers’ movement in the region. The reconfiguration of labor organizations to make them become independent of their governments and capitalistic business conglomerates must be supported by the people of ASEAN.

Indeed, there is a need for ASEAN to be much more people-oriented in its dealings with individual states and non-state actors. According to APF organizers, “Regional integration should begin with and be based on the people’s integration.” Thus, once regional economic integration is attained, the association should remain true and loyal to its commitment to recognize, protect and promote the rights of people in Southeast Asia. Similarly, in the context of an ever-changing global environment, people from ASEAN should help in upholding and exercising their rights especially in relation to how they produce, develop and reap the fruits of their labor.

Footnotes:
1 This discussion paper was written based on the draft workshop concept papers for the 6th ASEAN People’s Forum and ASEAN documents such as the ASEAN Charter and APF Concept Paper.

2 Viajar, V. D. (2008). The Labour Movement and Democratization in the Philippines: a Template for Southeast Asia (draft). Presented at the Conference on Democracy, Development and Peace in Asia 10-12 November, 2008, Kathmandu, Nepal

3 Taken from the Labor Unity Platform (no date)– a political statement drafted by progressive labor groups in the Philippines that make up the Collective Labor Agenda (CLA) and Contra (anti-contractualization network) and include the Major Labor Centers such as: Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), and Manggagawa para sa Kalayaan ng Bayan (MAKABAYAN); and Major Labor Organization, Federations and Industry Alliances such as: Philippine Metalworkers’ Alliance (PMA), Alliance of Coca-Cola Unions in the Philippines (ACCUP), Confederation of Independent Unions in the Public Sector (CIU), Kapisanan ng mga Maralitang Obrero (KAMAO), League of Independent Bank Organizations (LIBO), National Alliance of Broadcast Unions (NABU), National Federation of Labor (NFL), National Union of Building and Construction Workers (NUBCW), National Union of Workers in Hotel Restaurants and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN), Partido ng Mangagagawa (PM), Pinag-isang Tinig at Lakas ng Anak Pawis (PIGLAS), Postal Employees Union of the Philippines (PEUP), and Workers’ Solidarity Network (WSN)

4 United Nations Development Programme – Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): http://www.undp.org/mdg

5 Albeit in its current form – less democratic, non-transparent, unaccountable, without a real sense of unity in the face of imperial encroachments and devoid of a social pillar – ASEAN must still strive to adopt changes that cater to its people. If ASEAN wants to play the role of building a real “community” – then it has to alter its less democratic character, shed off its neo-liberal thinking, and start going beyond being a “motley collection of states”.

6 In establishing the China-ASEAN FTA, what happened was China simply negotiated with each of the ASEAM-member countries and then collected all the agreements and called it China-ASEAN FTA. The same thing happened with Japan, though at least, the ASEAN signed a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) with the country. Now, in the EU-ASEAN FTA, the same thing with China is happening again. Frustrated by “low ambitions,” the EU decided to deal with ASEAN not as a bloc but individually through bilateral agreements.

7 As in its dealings with the WTO, the ASEAN has never worked as a regional bloc. It cannot because it is made up of states with varying degrees of development, not to mention their differing political settings, i.e. having socialist, authoritarian, republican and monarchical states in one organization. And truth is many of these countries compete with each other based on a narrow band of commodities.