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 non-national 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 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. 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 law subjects all issues affecting labor and employment to mandatory conciliation-mediation 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 that 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 imprisonment 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. 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 Department of Labor and Employment 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 civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties in practice).
The government generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining, and enforced laws that provided for protection of these rights. DOLE 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 are imprisonment of not less than three months or more than three years with a fine of not less than 1,000 PHP ($21) or more than 10,000 PHP ($213). Such penalties were generally not sufficient to deter violations.
Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Before disputes reach the NLRC, provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, DOLE also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.
The 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 acts as the central entity to monitor recommendations and ratifications of 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.
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 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. 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.
Killings and harassment of labor leaders and advocates have occurred in the past, but there were no reports of labor-related violence during the year. The government noted that the March 2015 killing of Florencio Romano, the provincial coordinator of the National Coalition of the Protection of the Workers’ Rights in the Southern Tagalog region, was referred to the Regional Tripartite Monitoring Body, the National Policy Task Force, as well as the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons. As of December, there were no further updates in the case.
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 NGO 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. DOLE reported that there were multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Under law, penalties for forced labor included imprisonment for 20 years to life and a fine of not less than one million PHP ($21,290) were sufficiently stringent.
The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. 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. During the year DOLE began 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, 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 of the reported 700,000-plus individuals who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the face of the violent antinarcotics campaign were forced to do manual labor, forced exercise programs, 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/.
The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 15, 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. Children between the ages of 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 under 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 during the year, 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 ranged from 10,000 to five million PHP ($215 to $106,450), but were not sufficient to deter violations. From January to July, DOLE, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program, conducted 11 operations and removed 19 minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of August, DOLE closed six establishments for violations of child labor laws.
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. DOLE continued its efforts to deliver appropriate interventions aimed at reducing the worst forms of child labor and removing children from hazardous work under the H.E.L.P.M.E. (Health, Education, Livelihood, and Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution, Monitoring and Evaluation) Convergence Program.
Despite these efforts, child labor remained a common problem. Cases reported to DOLE centered in the service and agricultural sectors, notably in the fishing and sugar industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as mining, manufacturing (including pyrotechnic production), domestic service, trafficking of drugs, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments. In 2015 the NGO Human Rights Watch published a report highlighting the involvement of children as young as nine in artisanal and small-scale gold mines in Camarines Norte and Masbate Provinces in the country’s Bicol region. According to the report, children continued to be involved in a number of hazardous activities in such mining, including working underground and underwater, carrying heavy loads, and using mercury.
NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation. Findings from the joint National Statistics Office-ILO 2011 Survey on Children, the most recent data available, estimated that 5.5 million of the country’s 29 million children between the ages of five and 17 were working, and three million worked in hazardous jobs. The survey also found the highest incidence of child labor (60 percent) in the agricultural sector.
Forced child labor continued to occur, and children from rural communities and impoverished urban centers endured forced labor in domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also continued to occur (see section 6). Child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see section 1.g.).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of 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 have been approved at the municipal or city levels that prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT–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 Magna Carta for Disabled Persons commits the government to providing “sheltered employment” to persons with disabilities, for example in workshops providing special facilities. DOLE’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.
There have been few cases filed to test how effectively the law is enforced. The government does not effectively monitor and enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability, and the NCDA and DOLE did not monitor the regulation regarding the employment of persons with disabilities effectively. Penalties for violations of the law include a fine of 50,000 PHP ($1,064) for a first violation and fines and up to six years imprisonment for subsequent violations. The effectiveness of the measures 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 February an HIV-positive worker won a case against his employer for having been fired as a result of his HIV-positive diagnosis. The court ordered that the individual be reinstated and receive approximately PHP 600,000 ($12,774) 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 individuals. A 2014 UNDP study described cases of discrimination, including the enforcement of rules, policies, and regulations that disadvantaged LGBTI persons in the workplace. For example, transgender women were told by recruitment officers that they would only be hired if they presented themselves as males by cutting their hair short, dressing in men’s clothes, and acting in stereotypically masculine ways. An LGBTI NGO also received reports of other direct discrimination, including denial of employment, offers of less favorable employment terms and conditions, social exclusion in the workplace, denial of the same opportunities as equally qualified colleagues, harassment, and abuse.
Women faced discrimination both in hiring and on the job. Some labor unions claimed female employees suffered punitive action when they became pregnant. Women and men were subject to systematic age discrimination, most notably in hiring practices. Although women faced workplace discrimination, they continued to occupy positions at all levels of the workforce.
Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in hiring and employment during the year. DOLE estimated that only 10 percent of employable people with disabilities were able to find work.
As of September tripartite regional wage boards of the National Wage and Productivity Commission had made no increases to the daily minimum wage rates for agricultural and nonagricultural workers. Minimum wages in the nonagricultural sector were highest in the National Capital Region, where the average minimum daily wage rate was 491 PHP ($10.45). The lowest minimum wage rates were in the Ilocos Region, where the daily nonplantation agricultural wage was 253 PHP ($5). The law did not cover a substantial number of workers because 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.
The minimum wage for live-in domestic workers was 2,500 PHP ($53) per month in chartered cities and “first class” municipalities, defined based on the municipalities’ average annual income in the previous four years, and 1,500 PHP ($32) per month for those employed in other municipalities. The law also requires their employers to contribute to social security, PhilHealth, and the national housing program. According to the government, in 2015, the latest year for which such data were available, a family of five needed an average income of 8,022 PHP ($171) per month to avoid poverty.
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 mining 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.
DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions 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. As of August, DOLE employed 559 labor law compliance officers (LLCOs) to monitor and enforce the law, including by inspecting compliance with core labor and occupational safety standards and minimum wages. The number of LLCOs decreased slightly from 564 in 2015. DOLE acknowledged 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.
Penalties for noncompliance with increases or adjustments in the wage rates as prescribed by law are a fine not exceeding 25,000 PHP ($532), imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than two years, or both. In addition to fines, the government used administrative procedures and moral suasion to encourage employers to rectify violations voluntarily.
DOLE continued to implement its Labor Laws Compliance System for the private sector. The system included joint assessments, compliance visits, and/or occupational safety and health standards investigations. DOLE inspectors conducted joint assessments with employer and worker representatives; inspectors also conducted compliance visits and occupational safety and health standards investigations. DOLE 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. Of the 39,662 establishments jointly assessed by the labor inspectors and worker and employer representatives, 25,997 were found to be deficient in enforcing labor standards, including core labor standards and minimum wage rates. Following a deficiency finding, DOLE may issue compliance orders that can include a fine or, if the deficiency poses a grave and imminent danger to workers, suspend operations.
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.
There were also gaps and uneven applications of the law. Media reported problems in the implementation and enforcement of the domestic workers 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 DOLE’s lax monitoring of occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. Between January and August, the Bureau of Working Conditions recorded 16 work-related accidents that caused 17 deaths and 15 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 contract or temporary workers. Although the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration successfully registered and supervised domestic recruiter practices, authorities often lacked sufficient resources to provide worker protection overseas. The government, nonetheless, launched an interagency humanitarian mission to provide assistance to the thousands of Filipino workers laid off or stranded in Saudi Arabia and facilitated the repatriation of hundreds. As of September, the DSWD reported there were still “hundreds” of Filipinos needing repatriation from Saudi Arabia.
The government continued to place financial sanctions on, and bring criminal charges against, domestic recruiting agencies found guilty of unfair labor practices. In November the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration announced the closure of KBR International Agency Switzerland/AVA Documentation Services, which was found to be recruiting workers without a proper government license and requiring applicants to pay for medical examinations and training. An illegal recruitment case was being filed against officers and staff of the agency.
Foreigners were generally employed in the formal economy and recruited for high-paying, specialized positions. They typically enjoyed better working conditions than those faced by citizens.