The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protects the right of Filipino workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. 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 (SEZ).
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 employers may dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike and, if convicted, courts may imprison them for up to three years, although there has never been such a conviction.
The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes, under the 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. They also may assemble and express their grievances within work premises on their off time.
Law and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. Similar rights are afforded to most government workers. Use of short-term contractual labor, particularly by large private sector employers, continued to be prevalent. Some employers choose to employ such workers, who may not organize with long-term, “regular” workers, as a means of minimizing unionization and avoiding other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The NGO Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.
By law antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, constitutes an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties. Civil penalties were predominately imposed rather than criminal penalties. If there is a prima facie finding that termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass lay-off, the DOLE secretary may suspend the effects of termination/restore the status quo ante pending case resolution. Orders or writs of execution for reinstatement by the labor arbiter or the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) are immediately executing, and employers are required to report compliance; otherwise, payroll reinstatement is mandatory.
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 by the quasi-judicial NLRC as possible unfair labor practices. Before disputes reach 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.
Parties to a dispute must attempt mediation before giving notice to strike. They may request preventative mediation, but if that fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Parties may bring any dispute for mediation, but strike/lockout is reserved for an act of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining law, or a collective bargaining deadlock. During the year 69 preventative mediation cases concerning a refusal to bargain were filed before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB). Of those cases, involving 11,052 workers, disputants settled 39, five were pending, three evolved into a notice of strike, and 22 were either withdrawn by the complainant or submitted for voluntary arbitration. On the other hand, parties filed 51 notices of strike/lockout on refusal-to-bargain grounds. Of those noticed cases, involving 8,016 workers, parties settled 27, eight remained pending before the NCMB, 15 were either withdrawn or submitted for compulsory/voluntary arbitration, and one materialized into an actual strike.
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. Vital sectors include semiconductors and electronics; business-process outsourcing; tourism, agriculture, and fisheries development; and general infrastructure. 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 one strike, involving 20 workers in the nonvital media sector, that was settled through what is termed “conciliation mediation.”
Collective bargaining was practiced, but occasionally employers obstructed the negotiations, and union leaders were subject to reprisal. During the year the CTUHR monitored nine work places where 3,373 workers did not enjoy the benefits of their collective bargaining agreements because employers refused to implement them. Eleven companies also refused to bargain, resulting in deadlock (seven cases) or delay in the collective bargaining process (four cases). Union leaders filed unfair labor practice cases with the NLRC against their employers in several of these cases.
In the public sector, collective bargaining was limited to a list of terms and conditions of employment that were negotiable between management and public employees. Items requiring appropriation of funds, including healthcare and retirement benefits, and those that involved the exercise of management prerogatives, including appointment, promotion, compensation, and disciplinary action, were nonnegotiable.
The National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC), created in 2010, 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 acts as the central entity to monitor recommendations and ratifications of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. DOLE, through the NTIPC, is responsible for 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.
Unions have the right to form or join federations or other labor groups, and many join national and international confederations. Trade unions were independent of the government. According to union leaders, however, some managers threatened union members with dismissal and sometimes illegally dismissed union organizers during the year. For example, on March 30, the management of the Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation dismissed its employees’ union president, Raymund Acena, for his alleged use of the company e-mail system for union purposes. In response, Acena filed a case of illegal dismissal and unfair labor practice that remained pending at the NLRC as of year’s end.
Killings and harassment of labor leaders and advocates continued to be a problem. During the year the CTUHR documented six killings and two abductions of labor leaders.
The investigation of the March 2011 killing of Cielito Baccay, a union officer and founder of the Maeno-Giken Workers Organization in Dasmarinas, Cavite Province, stopped after workers were unwilling to testify, reportedly due to fear of retaliation by the suspected assailant(s). The union president resigned and left his job.
On March 28, a local court sentenced three security guards (Herminio Seduco, Nonie Gabrillos, and Jomar Galin) and a plant manager (Filipina Mandap) in connection with the 2005 killing of union leader Teotimo Dante.
In addition, the CTUHR also documented eight cases (naming a total of 73 workers and labor advocates) in which employers filed legal cases in order to threaten, harass, or intimidate. It also documented 10 incidents of threats, harassment, and intimidation outside the workplace that affected 102 trade unionists and supporters plus six cases of violent dispersal of a protest. For example, on February 24, authorities detained Renato Ojascastro, an employee of Glomar Herbal Philippines Corporation (GHPC), on charges of swindling but freed him after he posted bail three days later. The company owner lodged these charges months after Ojascastro and two other workers filed an NLRC case alleging illegal dismissal, underpayment of wages, and other violations of labor standards. The case against GHPC remained pending at year’s end.
In the dispute between Philippine Airlines (PAL) and its employee association over company outsourcing plans, salaries, benefits, and workforce reductions that dated from 2010, employee representatives and new company management stated to the media in September that they intended to hold talks. The PAL president also told reporters then that PAL would consider dropping criminal charges stemming from the September 2011 strike, but the dispute and the cases pending in court remained unresolved.
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 the government stationed security forces near industrial areas or SEZs to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in SEZs used frivolous lawsuits to harass union leaders. 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.
Labor rights groups reported that some firms continued to use 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 a firm falsified bankruptcy and used it to deny worker rights.
On May 7, the government signed a document to guide the conduct of DOLE plus the DILG, AFP, PNP, and the departments of national defense and justice concerning the exercise of worker rights and activities. The guidelines clarify the roles of each entity and commit them to protect worker rights; aim for peace, order, and security during labor disputes; and respect the exercise of worker and trade union rights free from violence, pressure, fear, or duress.