Filipino workers have the right to form and join trade unions and to strike and collectively bargain. These rights are laid out in detail in the Philippines’ labour code. The rights of freedom association, assembly and expression are protected under the constitution and the Supreme Court has issued rulings affirming these rights. The ILO Committee of Experts has criticised the Philippines’ circumscription of the right of foreign workers to freedom of association as well as provisions in the Labor Code that could be interpreted as unduly restricting the right to strike. There are approximately 600 national trade unions, representing 39 million workers. The human rights situation in the Philippines has deteriorated significantly in recent years and this has included attacks on trade unionists. International trade union groups have described a systematic pattern of violence and assassinations targeting labour and human rights defenders and defamatory campaigns designed to characterise critics of the government as communists or terrorists. There is no trade union in the Philippines that specifically represents the interests of its 2 million overseas foreign workers. Despite the practical difficulties associated with representing workers overseas, there have been moves to implement such a system, in large part due to the advocacy of domestic workers organisations.
Taiwan’s constitution protects the rights to freedom of assembly and association and its Labour Union Act grants all workers the right to organize and join labour unions. Prior to Taiwan’s transition to democratic rule in the 1990s, labour unions had strong links with the government and it was not until May 2000 that the authorities formally recognized the country’s first truly independent trade union confederation. In 2011, Taiwan amended provisions of the Labour Union Act that prevented foreign workers from setting up trade unions. Since this reform, two labour unions in Taiwan have been established by and for migrant workers: the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union was established in 2013, and the Taoyuan Domestic Caretaker Union was established in 2017. The Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union (YMFU) was very active in a campaign for justice following the death of several foreign fishermen in the south of the country, and there have been allegations that its work led to harassment and intimidation of its leaders. In 2021, a third trade union for foreign workers, the Keelung Migrant Fishermen’s Union, attained legal status despite geographical restrictions placed on membership, which hampered its efforts to enlist members.
Recommendations to the Philippine government:
- Facilitate civil society groups and trade unions in setting up a domestic organisation to represent and lobby for the rights of its overseas workers.
- Implement the recommendations of the ILO Commission on Freedom of Association at the 108th session of the International Labour Conference in 2019, including that the Philippines “immediately and effectively undertake investigations into the allegations of violence in relation to members of workers’ organizations with a view to establishing the facts, determining culpability and punishing the perpetrators.”
Recommendations to the Government of Taiwan:
- Initiate a thorough investigation into allegations of harassment and intimidation of senior figures within the Yilam Migrant Fishermen Union.
- Include provisions in the Labour Union Act that explicitly prohibit the obstruction or hindrance of trade union activity and criminalize the harassment or intimidation of individuals engaged in trade union activity.