Updated, 07 October 2010

                                                                                           Photos by Ron Villegas

The Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC), Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center (CBBRC) and Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), non government organizations (NGOs) working in the labor sector tied up to hold the Panel Discussion on Freedom of Association (FoA) in Philippine Economic Zones at  Balay Kalinaw of the University of the Philippines (UP), Quezon City. Representatives from the Philippine Ecozone Association (PHILEA), Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) sat as the panel of reactors.

Aimed at finding ways to improve and ensure compliance to existing national and International Labor Organization (ILO) policies on labor standards and labor relations in economic zones, this activity was conducted to solicit the reactions, insights and recommendations of the government, investors, ecozone management, labor sector and other interested parties to the results of a research on “organizing experiences in Philippine economic zone”, a project jointly undertaken by the initiators of the activity. The discussion commenced at 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 in the afternoon of October 1, 2010.

Ms. Helen Simplina, executive director of the CBBRC, presented the summary of the research paper entitled “Ripples and Rising Tides: Organizing in the Philippine Economic Zones,” citing workers experiences in ten factories located in various ecozones in the country. She underscored the difficulties and major obstacles in union organizing in ecozones, testaments to the incredibly low percentage of unionized workers relative to the total workforce and an even lower percentage of existing collective bargaining agreements.

Ms. Fidelita de Guzman, Administrator of the Cavite Economic Zone (CEZ), represented PEZA in the discussion. De Guzman presented the principles adhered into and accomplishments made by the agency.

Indicating the need to balance investments and labor, Ms. De Guzman made reference to Director General Lilia de Lima’s statement that the PEZA is determined to improve labor standards and economic opportunities for more jobs, the premise for workers rights, benefits and welfare.

According to Ms. De Guzman, “complimentary to investment promotions and development, PEZA upholds workers rights as non-negotiable and supports the responsible exercise of these rights.

Mr. Pastor Lorenzo, President of Philea, stood before the group and expressed that four (4) economic zones under his watch recognize and uphold the rights of the workers to organize and to peaceful assembly.  He mentioned the experience of NXP Semiconductors Cabuyao, Inc., Workers Union, which succeeded in forming a union and forging a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

Lorenzo agreed that unionization has decreased in the past few years citing labor flexibilization in a globalized economy as one of the major causes.

The DoLE was represented by Mr. Levinson Alcantara, chief labor and employment officer from the Institute for Labor Studies (ILS), the research arm of the Department.  Through his reaction paper, “Trickles and Tickles”, he affirmed some of the research findings and presented his suggestions and recommendations on the paper.

Also attending the activity were representatives from Verite, SALIGAN, IOHSAD, Labor Ministry of Novaliches and workers organizations and unions from the National Capital Region (NCR), Cavite, Batangas, and Laguna.

During the open forum, Ms. Merly Grafe, Chairperson of the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW), related their violent experience in the picket line when the workers from Phils Jeon Garments and Chong Won Fashions went to strike in September 2006.

Anakpawis Party Representative Joel Maglunsod lamented that only union leaders and activists identified with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May One Movement) are targeted for extra-judicial killings, harassment and intimidation under the unwritten No Union, No Strike (NUNS) policy.

Rev. Fr. Jose Dizon, executive director of WAC, gave a very strong wake-up call to everyone present but most especially to the government.  He said that the decreasing number of unions, which everyone agree on, should be a cause for worry and alarm citing that this is a legitimate, legal and constitutional right that should be promoted and protected by the government. “We should begin to ask ourselves how the situation came to this,” he said in Tagalog.

Fr. Dizon also said that he could understand the anti-union sentiment of the investors since they are in business for profit and the ready acceptance of unionism goes against this nature. He also understands that uninformed workers may not readily accept unionism. What is alarming, he said, is when the government and its instrumentalities promote, directly or indirectly, the unwritten “no union, no strike” policy.

At the end of the program, organizers of the activity as well as the panelists were optimistic that what transpired would be the start of a workers-labor agencies-investors dialogue-discussion and relationship aimed at pursuing workers rights and welfare inside production plants.

The NGOs who collaborated for this project did the research on freedom of association from November 2009 to June 2010 in partnership with the Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen or Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), a research institution based in The Netherlands. ###