Labor killings brought to top ILO governing body (First of two parts)

Published by rudy Date posted on April 19, 2010

EMERGENCY measures invoked by the military and police in the name of national security should not prevent trade unions from exercising legitimate rights and activities, including strikes.

And workers have the right to establish and join unions they choose regardless of political orientation, in a climate free of violence, pressure, fear and threats, according to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association.

The observations on the Philippines, among 38 of 142 alleged violations worldwide deliberated by the Committee, are based in most part on the findings of a high-level ILO mission that visited the country from September 22 to October 1 last year.

The high-level mission was unprecedented for the Philippines and followed that of Phillip Alston, special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, who visited the Philippines in early 2007 to look at allegations of extrajudicial killings.

The ILO mission – headed by Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, director of the ILO International Labor Standards Department – looked at the application of the Freedom of Association Convention and the trade union situation in the country.

The Philippines in 1953 ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention that provides workers and employers the freedom to organize, establish and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization. One of the provisions is that public authorities shall refrain from any interference that restricts this right.

The ILO Committee said the arrest of trade unionists without charge restricts freedom of association and their detention, without trial, impedes trade union rights. It also said that trade union activities cannot claim immunity from criminal laws.

The Committee called the “special attention” of the ILO Governing Body to the killings, grave threats, continuous harassment and intimidation and other forms of violence alleged by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

The KMU alleged that trade union violations continue to occur “with impunity” and hinder workers’ rights to organize, collectively bargain and strike. It also reported the extrajudicial killings and attempted murders of trade union leaders, members and supporters.

In response, the government provided the high-level mission with details on killings of 39 trade unionists, 11 abductions or forced disappearances, and 16 identified incidents of harassment. Only 13 cases were possibly labor-related, the government maintained.

It stressed that many of the cases of alleged violence against unionists were not labor related but common crimes, and no connection with a trade union had been proven.

The Committee said it was not in a position to determine, on the basis of the information brought before it, whether these cases concerned trade union activities.

It noted, however, that the advances in prosecuting and convicting perpetrators of violence against trade unionists are “insufficient” and only two convictions have been made and that cases date back to 2001.

While the Philippines has shown that even the military is not immune from prosecution with the recent arrest of a soldier for eight extrajudicial killings, the Committee noted “with regret” that suspects have been identified in only 16 out of 39 individual cases and that proceedings have been instituted before the courts in only nine cases.

Of the 19 cases being investigated, only 11 remained under investigation, since in eight cases the complainant was no longer interested in pursuing the case or had moved to an undisclosed place, it said.

The Committee acknowledged that lengthy court procedures and prosecution delays were due to case overload.

The government explained that prosecutors each handle an average of 650 cases, and some courts had no assigned prosecutor. Some 30 to 40 criminal cases were calendared per day in court, and three to four criminal cases proceeded to trial on the same day. As a result, a criminal case was fortunate to have three trial sittings in one year.

The Supreme Court has designated 99 Regional Trial Courts as special tribunals for extrajudicial killings where trials are terminated in two months and judgment rendered within 30 days.

The Committee noted the considerable delays in the judicial process and reiterated “that justice delayed is justice denied.”

Based on the findings of the high-level mission that the military maintained “Order of Battle” lists featuring trade unionists, the Committee said such measures go against guaranteeing trade union rights.

The military said that, faced with an insurgency that recruited workers, it was its duty to prevent people from joining and this might have led to perceptions of harassment.

The Committee stressed, however, that while the military clearly has a key role to play in ensuring law and order, blanket linkages of trade unions to the insurgency had a stigmatizing effect and often placed union leaders and members in a situation of “extreme insecurity.”

The Committee said it “expects the government to end prolonged military presence inside workplaces which is liable to have an intimidating effect on workers wishing to engage in legitimate trade union activities.” –PAUL ICAMINA, Malaya

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