Whether management uses intimidation and other tactics to prevent the formation of unions in the private sector; protection available to workers trying to unionize who are threatened by management (1997-September 2000) [PHL35321.E]

According to Country Reports 1999, unions in the Philippines have "claimed to have organised more than 12 per cent of the total work force of 29.5 million" although only 14.6 per cent of union members are covered by collective bargaining agreements (2000 Sec. 6a).

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) stated that as of 1998 there were 22 Export Processing Zones (EPZs) spread across the Philippines, 4 of which are managed on a tripartite basis (government, employers and worker representatives), while the remaining 18 are private (1 Mar. 1998). The EPZs employ approximately 175,000 workers (ibid.).

The ICFTU writes in their Annual Survey of Violation of Trade Union Rights,

There are very few unions in the export processing zones and in the growing number of special zones and regional industrial centres, where around 175,000 people are employed.
The labour law applies but in practice "no union, no strike" policies usually exist and are enforced by foreign investors, local government officials and zone administrators. Workers in the zones and elsewhere are increasingly being employed on short-term contracts. This practice grew in 1998, on the pretext of the economic crisis, allowing employers to subcontract staff while evading their obligations to them. It also meant that these employees had no union rights.
Union-busting in the zones usually takes the form of intimidation of the workforce as well as threats of dismissal and factory closures. Companies often leave the zones rather than allow unions. Trade union leaders and organisers are dismissed and discriminated against and blacklisted by other companies. Workers are often prevented from meeting each other except on the job (1999a).

According to the ICFTU, in the Mactan EPZ, which employs approximately 21,000 people, there are no unions, workers are not able to meet in groups, and organizers cannot get into the EPZ (ibid.). ICFTU also reported on an incident in a privately-operated EPZ, Victoria Wave Ecozone in Metro Manila, in which union officials and union members were fired after the Philippines Labour Department ordered that union certification elections would be allowed to go forward. ICFTU writes:

It is quite common for employers to resist trade union requests for certification elections to establish themselves as collective bargaining agents by sacking workers and thus destroying unions, once certification elections are pending (ibid.).

In their 1996-97 Report on Trade Union Rights, the World Confederation of Labour also reported on the harassment of union organizers:

In Cebu, Philippines, it is reported that union organizers at the EPZ are blacklisted and are placed on the "order of battle" (OB) of military and security personnel. Employers often attempt to intimidate workers trying to form a union with threats of firing or factory closure (1997).

UPI, reporting on the findings of a May 2000 study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), stated that "anti-union acts, on the part of employers in EPZs, including 'harassment, blacklisting and massive dismissals' have also occurred in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic" (25 May 2000). According to Country Reports 1999, union leaders and NGOs are concerned that "workers involved in union activity face intimidation tactics by management, including physical assaults by security guards" (25 Feb. 2000) and Country Reports 1998 writes that employees attempting to organize are intimated by threats of firing or factory closure (1999 Sec. 6a).

In a more detailed look at union organization in a private knitwear company in the Bataan EPZ, ICFTU writes:

Typically, the company resisted the local union from day one, warning workers that its buyers would cancel their contracts if they learned that a union was being organized (7 May 1999).

The workers proceeded to organize a campaign to inform buyers that the company was in violation of its own codes of conduct, and "the company reacted angrily: 63 union activists were either transferred or retrenched" (ibid.). The company eventually recognized the union and the dismissed activists were reinstated after a week of protest and strike actions (ibid.).

There are also reports of striking workers being harassed, intimidated or attacked on picket lines (ICFTU 1999a; ICFTU 1999b; Country Reports 1998 26 Feb. 1999; WCL 1997).

With regard to protection available to workers trying to unionize who are threatened by employers, Country Reports 1999 states that "allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review as possible unfair labour practices before the quasijudicial NLRC [National Labour Relations Commission]" (2000 Sec. 6b). Before complaints reach the NLRC, however, the Department of Labour works with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board which, according to Country Reports 1999, "settles most of the unfair labour practice disputes raised as grounds for strikes before the strikes can be declared" (ibid.).

ICFTU, commenting on the tacit "no union / no strike" policy in the EPZs, states:

Although the law provides in theory for freedom of association, in practice inadequate labour inspection and non-enforcement of the law restrict and discourage trade union activities. The situation is particularly grave in the country's export processing zones where violation of the right to organize, depriving workers of trade union protection, is closely correlated with poor working conditions and non-compliance with labour and social protection legislation, including minimum wage (1999b).

Business World reported that labour groups celebrating Labour Day in May 2000 would "express their indignation over the continued indifference of the government and private sector on the plight of workers" (1 May 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please see below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this information request.


Business World. 1 May 2000. "On Eve of Labour Day, Erap Pledges Drive Vs. Abusive Employers." (NEXIS)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/philippines.html [Accessed 5 Sept. 2000]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998. 1999. http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1998_hrp_report/philippines.html [Accessed 5 Sept. 2000]

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). 1999a. "Report on the Philippines from the Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights: Cases Before the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association." http://www.icftu.org [Accessed 7 Sept. 2000]

_____. 1999b. "Report for the WTO General Council Review of the Trade Policies of the Philippines." http://www.icftu.org [Accessed 7 Sept. 2000]

_____. 7 May 1999. "ICFTU Online: Taking Companies at Their Word." http://www.icftu.org [Accessed 7 Sept. 2000]

_____. 1 March 1998. "The TUCP Makes a Breakthrough." http://www.icftu.org [Accessed 7 Sept. 2000]

United Press International (UPI). 25 May 2000. "Labour Rights a Problem in Many Countries." (NEXIS)

World Confederation of Labour (WCL). "Impact of Globalization on the International Labour Standards." Report on Trade Union Rights Worldwide 1996-97. http://www.cnt-wcl.org/en/pubs/report96-97.html [Accessed 6 Sept. 2000]

Additional Sources Consulted

Philippines Country File. Resource Centre.

Internet Sites including:

Amnesty International

AREA Handbook Series, Library of Congress
Cyber Picket Line,

World Trade Union Directory


Human Rights Watch

Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)

Labor Circular Online

Manila Bulletin [Manila]

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

Philippines Commission on Human Rights

Philippines Human Rights Network on the Net (HR Now!)

STOP Privatization! Page

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines

US Department of Labour, Bureau of International Labour Affairs

World Confederation of Labour, Labour Magazine, 1998-2000

Search Engines including: