Reshaping the world for labor

Speech delivered today by Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson and Philippine Labor Sector Representative Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog at the plenary of the 106th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland:

On June 2, a day before I left for this conference, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police joined by hired scabs and goons brutally attacked the picket line of the striking workers of the Korean-owned banana plantation giant Shin Sun Tropical Fruit Corporation in Mindanao. Fourteen Shin Sun union leaders and members were hog tied, imprisoned and were interrogated. Imposing their military rule, state security forces threatened to kill the striking workers if they refuse to end their almost 2-month strike against contractualization, union busting and for better working conditions. They were released on bail last June 7.

Brothers and sisters, these are challenging times for labor in the Philippines but also across the globe. Monopoly capitalist greed has shaped the world in favor of the accumulation of super profits for the 1 per cent while on the other hand, the 99 per cent, the workers and peoples of the world, are left on the losing end.

The neoliberal policies of globalization have worsened the poverty and injustice in the Philippines, especially among the workers and peasants. Among workers, neoliberal policies has intensified the attack on jobs and wages. The International Labor Organization has pegged the Philippines’ average monthly wage at $279, less than 20 per cent of the world’s average. The whole situation underscores the Filipino people’s aspiration and struggle to assert national sovereignty, genuine land reform and national industrialization.

Labor flexibilization through the prevalence of legitimized short-term contractual employment schemes, or locally known as contractualization, subjects the majority of Filipino workers to further pressed-down wages. It is estimated that there are over 24.4 million short-term contractual Filipino workers that are subjected to wages below the already meager minimum wage and are deprived of their rights to unionize and to collective bargaining. There are about 5 million child labourers now.

The use of these short-term contractual labor and precarious work, which has been described by the International Labor Forum as a global strategy to undermine decent work to cut labor costs by ceasing any employer-employee relationship from which all international and domestic labor laws are based.

In effect, contractualization has been used to violate every workers’ hard-won rights and dignity and there is widespread clamor among Filipino workers against contractualization. In fact, President Duterte’s electoral promise to wipe out contractualization was a major reason for his electoral victory.

The ILO has reported the Philippines as having the highest unemployment rate in Southeast Asia which, on the first quarter of this year alone, has been averaged at 8.61 per cent. Widespread unemployment, subsistence wages, irregular jobs and the worsening working and living conditions in the Philippines has forced 10 million of our population on an exodus abroad as migrant workers.

The Filipino workers’ struggles for living wage and decent work are violently countered by state repression. In 1986, the Kilusang Mayo Uno filed a case before the ILO on the murder of our late chairperson, Rolando Olalia, one of the first victims of state-sponsored extra-judicial killings after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. After 30 years, the killings and persecution of unionists, activists and labor and human rights advocates persist.

Last May 23, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao. Under the guise of combatting terrorism, Martial Law has been used by fascists and war mongers in his administration to suppress workers’ legitimate and just struggles such as the case of striking banana workers.

In this light, we seek the support of the ILO in calling on President Duterte to lift Martial Law and stop atrocities against Filipino workers and people.

More importantly, we seek that the ILO hold a high level mission to the Philippines to look into the violation of workers’ rights, prevalence of contractualization and other flexible labor schemes that has been a plague upon workers’ rights and dignity.

May the voice of the ILO ring loud against capitalist greed, and denounce the rule of less than 1 per cent of the world’s population, and uphold the rights of the working class whose toil has brought about the riches of this world. Let us all do our part in reshaping this unjust world. Let us work hand-in-hand, regardless of our creed, color, gender or work, in building a world that respects and upholds the rights and dignity of its workers and people over the profits of a few. Let us fight for a better world for the workers and for the people.

Long live international solidarity!

*Photo from Friends of Free Workers