Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers, with the exception of the military, police, short-term contract employees, and some foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes; it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights.
Laws and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. The law prohibits organizing by foreign national or migrant workers unless a reciprocity agreement exists with the workers’ countries of origin specifying that migrant workers from the Philippines are permitted to organize unions there. The law also requires the participation of 20 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit where the union seeks to operate; the International Labor Organization (ILO) called this requirement excessive and urged the government to lower minimum membership. The scope of collective bargaining in the public sector is limited to a list of terms and conditions of employment negotiable between management and public employees. These are items requiring appropriation of funds, including health-care and retirement benefits, and those that involved the exercise of management prerogatives, including appointment, promotion, compensation, and disciplinary action, are nonnegotiable.
Strikes in the private sector are legal. Unions are required to provide strike notice, respect mandatory cooling off periods, and obtain approval from a majority of members before calling a strike. The Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE/labor department) Bureau of Labor Relations reported 417 mediation-conciliation cases from January to July. Of these, 288 cases were filed under preventive mediation, 124 under notices of strike or lockout, and five cases under actual strike or lockout. Of the total reported mediation-conciliation cases, 66 percent raised issues on unfair labor practices.
The law subjects all problems affecting labor and employment to mandatory mediation-conciliation for one month. Parties to a dispute must attempt mediation before giving notice to strike; if that fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Parties may bring any dispute to mediation, but strikes or lockouts must be related to acts of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining laws, or a collective bargaining deadlock. The law provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years for participation in an illegal strike, a requirement the ILO urged the government to amend.
The law permits employers to dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike. Union officers convicted of striking illegally are subject to a maximum imprisonment of three years, although there has never been such a conviction.
The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes under the threat of automatic dismissal. Government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes. Government workers may also assemble and express their grievances on the work premises during nonworking hours.
The secretary of the DOLE, and in certain cases the president, may intervene in 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 hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other activities or industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Labor rights advocates continued to criticize the government for maintaining definitions of vital services that were broader than international standards.
By law antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, is an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties (although generally civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties).
The government generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining, and enforced laws protecting these rights. The Department of Labor has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Commission’s (NLRC) labor arbiter may also issue orders or writs of execution for reinstatement that go into effect immediately, requiring employers to reinstate the worker and report compliance to the NLRC. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review by the quasi-judicial NLRC, as they may constitute possible unfair labor practices. If there is a definite preliminary finding that a termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass layoff, the DOLE secretary may suspend the termination and restore the status quo pending resolution of the case.
Penalties under the law for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were generally not sufficient to deter violations.
Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Before disputes reach the NLRC, the labor department provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the department also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.
The NTIPC serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism on labor and employment for organized labor, employers, and government on the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also acts as the central entity for monitoring recommendations and ratifications of ILO conventions. The labor department, through the NTIPC, is responsible for coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases alleging violence and harassment of labor leaders and trade union activists pending before the ILO.
Workers faced several challenges in exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts 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. Local SEZ directors claimed exclusive authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Employers controlled hiring through special 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. The DOLE does not have data on compliance with labor standards in SEZs.
There were isolated reports of labor-related violence during the year. In July police arrested 19 NutriAsia workers and supporters for “obstructing the ingress and egress” to the company plant. The DOLE mediated the case between NutriAsia and its workers.
Some employers reportedly chose to employ workers who could not legally organize, such as short-term contract and foreign national workers, to minimize unionization and avoid other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The nongovernmental Center for Trade Union and Human Rights contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Employers also often abused contractual labor provisions by rehiring employees shortly after the expiration of the previous contract. The labor department reported multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Legal penalties for forced labor were sufficiently stringent.
Trade unions reported continued poor compliance with the law, due in part to the government’s lack of capacity to inspect labor practices in the informal economy. The government continued awareness-raising activities, especially in the provinces, in an effort to prevent forced labor. The DOLE’s efforts included an orientation program for recruits for commercial fishing vessels, who were among the workers most vulnerable to forced labor conditions.
Reports of forced labor by adults and children continued, mainly in fishing and other maritime industries, small-scale factories, gold mines, domestic service, agriculture, and other areas of the informal sector (see section 7.c.). Unscrupulous employers subjected women from rural communities and impoverished urban centers to domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. They also subjected men to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations and in fishing and other maritime industries.
There were reports that some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the violent antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor, exercise, or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 years, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians, and sets the maximum number of working hours for them at four hours per day and no more than 20 hours per week. The law also prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Children between 15 and 17 are limited to eight working hours per day, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. The law forbids the employment of persons younger than 18 in hazardous work. The law sets the minimum age for domestic workers at 15.
Although the government supported programs that sought to prevent, monitor, and respond to child labor, resources remained inadequate. The government imposed fines and instituted criminal prosecutions for law violations in the formal sector, such as in manufacturing. Fines for child labor law violations were not sufficient to deter violations. From January to July, the DOLE, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program (part of the Health, Education, Livelihood, and Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution, Monitoring and Evaluation [H.E.L.P.M.E.] Convergence Program), conducted five operations and removed 25 minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of July the department closed three establishments for violations of child labor laws. In June the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center rescued 19 female high school students allegedly working as escorts at a bar in Manila. The PNP also arrested three suspected pimps offering “jobs” to students outside the school premises.
The government, in coordination with domestic NGOs and international organizations, continued to implement programs to develop safer options for children, return them to school, and offer families viable economic alternatives to child labor. The labor department continued its efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor and to remove children from hazardous work under the H.E.L.P.M.E. Convergence Program.
Despite these efforts, child labor remained a widespread problem. Previous cases reported to the DOLE centered in the service and agricultural sectors, notably in the fishing, palm oil, and sugar cane industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as gold mining, manufacturing (including of fireworks), domestic service, drug trafficking, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments.
NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation.
Online sexual exploitation of children and child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see sections 6 and 1.g., respectively).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on age; sex; race; creed; disability; and HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, or marital status. The law does not prohibit employment discrimination with respect to color, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, other communicable disease status, or social origin. While some local antidiscrimination ordinances existed at the municipal or city levels that prohibit employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–persons, there was no prohibition against such discrimination in national legislation.
The law requires most government agencies and government-owned corporations to reserve 1 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities; government agencies engaged in social development must reserve 5 percent. The law commits the government to providing “sheltered employment” to persons with disabilities, for example in workshops providing separate facilities. The labor department’s Bureau of Local Employment maintained registers of persons with disabilities that indicate their skills and abilities and promoted the establishment of cooperatives and self-employment projects for such persons.
Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in hiring and employment. The labor department estimated that only 10 percent of employable persons with disabilities were able to find work.
Between January and July, no cases were filed to test how effectively the law was enforced. The government did not effectively monitor and enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability, and the National Council for Disability Affairs and the labor department did not monitor the regulation regarding the employment of persons with disabilities effectively. The effectiveness of penalties to prevent violations could not be assessed.
The government had limited means to assist persons with disabilities in finding employment, and the cost of filing a lawsuit and lack of effective administrative means of redress limited the recourse of such persons when prospective employers violated their rights. In 2016 an HIV-positive worker won a case against his employer for having been fired because of his HIV-positive diagnosis. The court ordered that the individual be reinstated and receive approximately 600,000 pesos ($11,200) in damages and back wages.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to LGBTI persons. A number of LGBTI organizations submitted anecdotal reports of discriminatory practices that affected the employment status of LGBTI persons. Discrimination cases included the enforcement of rules, policies, and regulations that disadvantaged LGBTI persons in the workplace. For example, in 2017 transgender women were told by recruitment officers that they would be hired only if they presented themselves as males by cutting their hair short, dressing in men’s clothes, and acting in stereotypically masculine ways.
Women faced discrimination both in hiring and on the job. Some labor unions claimed female employees suffered punitive action when they became pregnant. Although women faced workplace discrimination, they continued to occupy positions at all levels of the workforce.
Women and men were subject to systematic age discrimination, most notably in hiring.
The government allowed refugees to work. A DOLE order affirmed refugees’ and stateless persons’ access to work permits. The Bureau of Immigration provided temporary work permits for persons with pending applications for refugee or stateless status upon endorsement by the RSPPU. The types of employment open to refugees and stateless persons were generally the same as those open to other legal aliens.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
As of May tripartite regional wage boards of the National Wage and Productivity Commission had not increased the daily minimum wage rates for agricultural and nonagricultural workers. Minimum wages ranged from 512 pesos ($9.57) per day for nonagricultural workers in the Manila region to 256 pesos ($4.79) per day for agricultural workers in the Ilocos region. According to the government, in 2015, the latest year for which such data was available, a family of five needed an average income of 8,022 pesos ($150) per month to avoid poverty.
The law did not cover many workers, since wage boards exempted some newly established companies and other employers from the rules because of factors such as business size, industry sector, export intensity, financial distress, and capitalization level.
Domestic workers worked under a separate wage and benefit system, which lays out minimum wage requirements and payments into social welfare programs, and mandates one day off a week. While there were no reliable recent data, informed observers believed two million or more persons were employed as domestic workers, with nearly 85 percent being women or girls as young as 15 years.
Penalties for noncompliance with increases or adjustments in the wage rates as prescribed by law are a fine not exceeding 25,000 pesos ($468), imprisonment of one to two years, or both. In addition to fines, the government used administrative procedures and moral suasion to encourage employers to rectify violations voluntarily.
By law the standard workweek is 48 hours for most categories of industrial workers and 40 hours for government workers, with an eight hour per day limit. The law mandates one day of rest each week. The government mandates an overtime rate of 125 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days, 130 percent on special nonworking days, and 200 percent on regular holidays. There is no legal limit on the number of overtime hours that an employer may require.
The law provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. Regulations for small-scale mining prohibit certain harmful practices, including the use of mercury and underwater, or compressor, mining. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Most labor laws apply to foreign workers, who must obtain work permits and may not engage in certain occupations.
The DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC) monitors and inspects compliance with labor law in all sectors, including workers in the formal sector, nontraditional laborers, and informal workers, and inspects SEZs and businesses located there. The number of labor law compliance officers, who monitor and enforce the law, including by inspecting compliance with core labor and occupational safety standards and minimum wages, increased to 608 from 574 in 2017. The BWC stated that its budget increased to allow 710 permanent labor inspector positions, once qualified applicants were selected. Nonetheless, the number of compliance officers was insufficient for the workforce of 42 million workers, particularly in rural areas. ILO standards for developing countries suggest a need for approximately 2,800 labor inspectors–one inspector for every 15,000 workers. The labor department prioritized increasing the number of officers while acknowledging that insufficient inspection funds continued to impede its ability to investigate labor law violations effectively, especially in the informal sector and in small and medium size enterprises.
The DOLE continued to implement its Labor Laws Compliance System for the private sector. The system included joint assessments, compliance visits, and occupational safety and health standards investigations. Labor department inspectors conducted joint assessments with employer and worker representatives; inspectors also conducted compliance visits and occupational safety and health standards investigations. The labor department and the ILO also continued to implement an information management system to capture and transmit data from the field in real time using mobile technology. Violations included 13,240 for labor standards, 9,842 for general labor standards, 2,045 for violations of minimum wage rates, and 11,142 for occupational safety and health standards. Following a deficiency finding, the labor department may issue compliance orders that can include a fine or, if the deficiency poses a grave and imminent danger to workers, suspend operations. The BWC also reported no establishments were found deficient with respect to child labor law as of July.
Violations of minimum wage standards were common, as was the use of contract employees to avoid the payment of required benefits, including in the SEZs. Many firms hired employees for less than minimum wage apprentice rates, even if there was no approved training in their work. Complaints about payment under the minimum wage and nonpayment of social security contributions and bonuses were particularly common at companies in the SEZs. In 2017 the DOLE issued Department Order 174, setting stricter guidelines on the use of labor contracting and subcontracting. Some labor unions, however, criticized the order for not ending all forms of contractual work. On May 1, President Duterte issued an Executive Order prohibiting employers from circumventing a worker’s “security of tenure,” which he defined as the right “not to be dismissed or removed without just and authorized cause.” Similar to Department Order 174, some labor unions criticized the action for not ending all forms of contractual work.
There were also gaps and uneven applications of the law. Media reported problems in the implementation and enforcement of the domestic worker’s law, including a tedious registration process, an additional financial burden on employers, and difficulty in monitoring employer compliance.
During the year various labor groups criticized the government’s enforcement efforts, in particular the DOLE’s lax monitoring of occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. Between January and July, the BWC recorded 28 work-related accidents that caused 19 deaths and 23 injuries. Statistics on work-related accidents and illnesses were incomplete, as incidents were underreported, especially in agriculture.
The government and several NGOs worked to protect the rights of the country’s overseas citizens, most of whom were Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) contract or temporary workers. Although the POEA registered and supervised domestic recruiter practices, authorities often lacked sufficient resources to provide complete worker protection overseas. The Overseas Worker Welfare Administration provides support to overseas workers in filing grievances against employers via its Legal Assistance Fund. The fund covers administrative costs that would otherwise prevent overseas workers from filing grievance complaints. Covered costs include fees for court typing and translation, visa cancellation, and contract termination.
The government continued to place financial sanctions on, and bring criminal charges against, domestic recruiting agencies found guilty of unfair labor practices. From January to August 2017, the POEA reported 100 suspension orders issued to 57 licensed recruitment agencies for various violations.
Foreigners were generally employed in the formal economy and recruited for high paying, specialized positions. They typically enjoyed better working conditions than citizens.