The law provides for the right of most Filipino workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join trade unions. Laws also prohibit organizing by short-term contract and foreign-national workers, unless a reciprocity agreement exists between the countries. Labor laws apply uniformly throughout the country, including in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
Strikes in the private sector are legal, although unions are procedurally required to provide strike notice, respect mandatory cooling-off periods, and obtain majority-member approval before calling a strike. By law the reason for striking must be relevant to the labor contract or the law, and all means of reconciliation must have been exhausted. The law provides that union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike may be dismissed and, if convicted, imprisoned for up to three years, although there has never been such a conviction.
Government workers are prohibited from joining strikes under threat of automatic dismissal. Instead, government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes between workers and their employers.
Law and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and in corporations owned or controlled by the government. Similar rights are afforded to most government workers. Use of short-term contractual labor, particularly by large employers, continued to be prevalent. Some employers choose to employ such workers, who are not permitted to organize with long-term, “regular” workers, as a means of minimizing unionization.
By law antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, constitutes an unfair labor practice and can carry criminal or civil penalties. There is no explicit provision to provide for reinstatement.
DOLE has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review before the quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) as possible unfair labor practices. Before disputes reached the NLRC, DOLE provided mediation services through a board, which settled most of the unfair labor practice disputes. Through the mediation board, DOLE also worked to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies that already had unions.
The DOLE secretary--and in some special cases, the president--may intervene in some labor disputes by assuming jurisdiction and mandating a settlement if either official determines that the strike-affected company is vital to the national interest. Labor rights advocates criticized the government for intervening in labor disputes in sectors that they contended were not vital to the national economy. During the year DOLE reported two strikes involving 3,828 workers in the industry and services sector.
Collective bargaining was practiced, but it was subject to hindrance by employers, and union leaders were subject to reprisal. In the public sector, collective bargaining was limited to a list of terms and conditions of employment that could be negotiated between management and public employees. Nonnegotiable items were those that required appropriation of funds, including healthcare and retirement benefits, and those that involved the exercise of management prerogatives, including appointment, promotion, compensation, and disciplinary action.
Created in 2010, the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC) serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism concerning labor and employment. It functions primarily as a forum for tripartite advice and consultation among organized labor, employers, and government in the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also serves as the central entity to monitor recommendations and ratifications of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. DOLE, through the NTIPC, is charged with coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases pending before the ILO concerning allegations of violence and harassment directed at labor leaders and trade union activists. During the year DOLE assumed jurisdiction in five labor dispute cases.
In practice trade unions were independent of the government. Unions have the right to form or join federations or other labor groups, and many join national and international confederations. According to union leaders, however, management frequently threatened union members with dismissal and sometimes illegally dismissed union organizers during the year. Additionally, the military maintained a presence in some workplaces and interfered in labor disputes.
Killings and harassment of labor leaders and advocates continued to be a problem, although to a lesser extent than in the mid-2000s. During the year the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) documented four cases involving killings of five labor leaders, compared with five killings in 2010. For example, on March 8, unknown assailants killed Cielito Baccay, a union officer and founder of the Maeno-Giken Workers Organization (MAGIKWO) in Dasmarinas, Cavite Province. Some labor groups linked this killing to the continuing dispute between MAGIKWO and the management of Maeno-Giken, Inc. and suspected that the incident was a form of harassment and union busting. Management denied any connection to the killing, and the case remained under investigation as of year’s end.
In addition, during the year the CTUHR documented 11 cases of threats, harassment, and intimidation affecting 73 workers and labor advocates, 11 cases of physical assault, and three cases of protests violently dispersed.
On April 1, DOLE reaffirmed its December 2010 ruling in favor of the association representing flight attendants and stewards of Philippine Airlines (PAL), which granted back-salary increases, a compulsory retirement age of 60 years, and other benefits. DOLE has also brokered talks between members of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) and management since December 2010 regarding plans to outsource a number of “non-core” positions, which would reduce the workforce by 2,600. On September 27, four days before the changes became effective, PALEA members walked off the job in protest, effectively shutting down the airline. On November 9, the airline’s management filed criminal complaints against 41former employees who allegedly harassed airline staff and blocked PAL’s catering services on October 29. By year’s end the criminal cases against the former employees were pending in court, and the majority of the 2,600 non-core positions had been outsourced.
In practice local SEZ directors claimed authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Hiring often was controlled tightly through SEZ labor centers. For these reasons, and in part due to organizers’ restricted access to the closely guarded zones and the propensity among zone establishments to adopt fixed-term, casual, temporary, or seasonal employment contracts, unions had little success organizing in the SEZs.
Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the SEZs explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts further by maintaining union-free or strike-free policies. Unions also claimed that government security forces were stationed near industrial areas or SEZs to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in SEZs used frivolous lawsuits as a means of harassing union leaders. Finally, labor rights groups reported that some firms used bankruptcy as a reason for closing and dismissing workers attempting to organize. By law bankruptcy is an acceptable reason for closing a firm, unless there is a pattern in which it was falsified and used to deny worker rights. The Philippines Export Zone Authority engaged the NGO Verite on this problem with no marked progress by year’s end.