Philippine trade union rights

Published on Mon 7 December 2020 3:17pm

All the best things we’ve achieved – democracy, equality, egalitarianism, anti-discrimination, peace, and freedom – all these things have been fought for, campaigned for, and bit by bit achieved or improved or protected with the efforts and principled commitment of organised labour; by unionists and their representatives in the union movement.

MR J. H. WILSON: To move—That this House:

(1) affirms the longstanding, important, and respectful relationship between Australia and the Philippines, and supports the ongoing cooperation between our countries in key areas like regional development, maritime security, and disaster risk and reduction management;

(2) expresses its opposition to the recently intensified repression directed at human rights and labour rights defenders in the Philippines, evident by: (a) the International Trade Union Confederation listing the Philippines in the top ten worst countries for workers’ rights as a result of the extrajudicial killings of forty-six union members and officials in the last three years;

(b) the deteriorating human rights environment and the rise in unlawful killings by state agencies which means that workers, civil servants, trade union organisations, and labour activists fear for their safety;

(c) the nearly three-year extension of martial law in Mindanao, after it was initially approved for sixty days, and which only ended in December 2019; and

(d) the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption of resolution 41/2 expressing concern over human rights violations and requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines that was due in June 2020;

(3) supports recommendations put forward by the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Conference Committee on the Application of Standards to: (a) oppose any language that creates a negative stigmatisation of those defending the rights of workers and human rights; and

(b) oppose any military intervention in industrial disputes, as such interventions in trade union affairs can only occur with approval of the Government, which constitutes a grave violation of human rights and the principles of freedom of association; and

(4) calls on the Government to support the upholding of labour and human rights, in line with international standards, by endorsing:

(a) the ILO’s resolution to send a high-level tripartite mission to the Philippines to conduct an open, transparent, and robust investigation of the human rights situation; and

(b) any auditing process of Australian security engagements in the Philippines, such as the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, as a way of ensuring we are not indirectly supporting human rights violations in the Philippines.

Deputy Speaker, I move the motion relating to labour rights in the Philippines in the terms in which it appears in the notice paper.

Australia has a strong connection with the people of the Philippines.  We have and we will continue to be supportive of their peaceful and prosperous development.

This motion was prompted by a meeting I had with a delegation of labour organisations including the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, the ACTU, Union Aid Abroad, and the Filipino workers representative group, Kilusang Mayo Uno.

I thank them for raising this serious issue, and I particularly acknowledge the unstinting work of APHEDA in solidarity with workers around the world, but most importantly in countries where workplace rights and access to union representation is limited.

We are fortunate to live in a country that has a diverse and healthy union movement; a country in which, generally speaking, there is respect and protection for the role of unions, despite the best efforts of the Coalition.

Sadly, there are many parts of the world where that’s not the case.

In partnership with the Metal Workers Alliance, APHEDA, and the AMWU; the Australian union movement is providing invaluable education and support to Filipino union activists in response to the ongoing intimidation by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Deputy Speaker, the reality for many workers in the Philippines is pretty tough.  A skilled metal worker earns $12 dollars a day in Manila; less than half of the daily cost of living for a family.  There is no minimum wage, and less than 10 per cent of workers are unionised.

It is commonly the case that union representatives are labelled “factory terrorists” by corporations that operate in the Philippines, some of which are multinational companies with brands that we know well in Australia.

The International Trade Union Confederation consistently ranks the Philippines among the worst ten countries in the world for workers’ rights.  There is credible evidence that 46 union members and officials have been murdered in the past three years – with, at least, the complicity of the Duterte Government.

There has also been an increase in violence directed at journalists in a bid to silence criticism and instil fear.  Indeed, anyone who dares criticise the government can be targeted, as evidenced by the arrest of journalist Maria Ressa, and the forced shutdown of ABS-CBN, which resulted in 11,000 media workers losing their jobs.

Unfortunately the situation has worsened through the pandemic, with the government moving to suppress union activities in areas of essential service work and healthcare, thereby hampering efforts to ensure safe workplaces and access to PPE.

What’s more, in July the government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act which criminalises conduct that is regarded by the United Nations as being legitimate forms of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Under the law, the compilation of a list of alleged terrorists by the newly created Anti-Terrorism Council has resulted in surveillance, arrests, and detentions with a focus on the ‘red-tagging’ of unionists, journalists, and other members of civil society.

The Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concerns that these laws violate the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Just last week, the ACTU held a rally at the Filipino Embassy and President Michele O’Neil rightly called on the Australian government to take a more active stance.

In October, Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds, visited the Philippines for the purposes of “deepening defence ties”.  We don’t know if she raised concerns about human rights during these talks, but we do know the Minister’s public statements contained no mention of the issue.

Deputy Speaker, the Morrison Government should be calling on the Duterte Administration to:

Deputy Speaker, workers’ rights are human rights.

There has been no greater organisational force for good and for human progress than the labour movement.

All the best things we’ve achieved – democracy, equality, egalitarianism, anti-discrimination, peace, and freedom – all these things have been fought for, campaigned for, and bit by bit achieved or improved or protected with the efforts and principled commitment of organised labour; by unionists and their representatives in the union movement.

This year has opened our eyes to the importance of essential workers, to the importance of fair and safe working conditions, to the importance of secure work and proper leave arrangements – not just for workers and their families, but for the maintenance of basic services and public health.

Yet workers’ pay has fallen to the lowest share of national income in 50 years, and wages have flatlined in a worrying disconnection from profits and productivity.

If there’s one thing we should carry into 2021 – whether it’s in the Philippines or in Australia – it is that we need a strong labour movement as the great guarantor of fairness, social inclusion, and shared well-being.

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