2006-2008: Violence Against Filipino Workers
The period leading into 2006 saw countless violent attacks against labour rights advocates in the Philippines, which was followed by a seemingly endless wave of escalating contract killings of union leaders, human rights activists and journalists.
The shooting of union President, Gerardo Cristobal, by masked men later identified as police operatives on 28 April 2006, was no isolated incident. Bishop Alberto Ramento, chairman of the board of the Workers Assistance Centre was shot on 3 October 2006, which was followed by more shootings of labour activists in Cavite Province.
In September 2006, mostly women union members went on strike in the Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) just South of Manila to protest the factories' refusal to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. Police and private security guards assaulted striking workers protesting outside the Chong Won Fashion Inc.
On 11 December, two members of the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) and one employee at the Japanese-owned, Yakazi-EMI semi-conductor factory were gunned downed by assassins in Imus, Cavite. Kenny Mari Severo (21) was wounded by a stray bullet and Jesus Buth Servida (32) was killed instantly while his companion, Jowel Sale (32), sustained three gunshot wounds. Servida and Sale were union leaders before their dismissal by their employers for engaging in union activities. Marlene Gonzales, chair of the Solidarity of Cavite Workers, believes that “The no union, no strike policies of Governor Ireneo Maliksi are taking the lives of the labour activists one by one.” The investigations were compromised because the Imus police investigating these shootings are the same ones accused of shooting Cristobal.
On 9 January 2007, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) police and security guards stood by as Chong Won-hired thugs, tore down the strikers’ makeshift tents as the Tanggulan Security Agency continued to harass the strikers.
On February 5–6, Department of Labour and Employment’s (DoLE) regional director cancelled union registration at several factories and a petition was reportedly circulating that advocated doing away with the union.
The workers went on strike for ten months before armed masked men entered the heavily guarded factory compounds and threatened some of the strikers at gunpoint.
The strikers at the Chong Won (renamed C. Woo) and Phils Jeon factories live in a state of constant fear as the government-sanctioned violence is supported by both PEZA and DoLE who use violence in response to unsubstantiated reports of armed strikers.
Despite international protests against the violence, Filipino authorities have taken no effective measures to date to end the violence and there has been no independent, impartial investigation into either the shootings or the police violence aimed at strikers. There have been investigations by both the WRC and Walmart that confirm the accusations (see MSN site below).
The CCC believes Philippine authorities, PEZA and DoLE, should guarantee workers’ freedom of association and immediately halt the violence directed at labour activists and striking workers. The government's response has thus far been insufficient.
The unions reacted by suing the police and security guards. Meanwhile, the police filed criminal charges against 33 activists, part of the government’s strategy of using the legal system to suppress dissent.
In November 2006, Amnesty International (AI), the EU and the UN, among others, denounced the violence. AI estimated that the government was responsible for the deaths of some 66 labour activists in 2005, followed by 51 in just the first six months of 2006.
Meanwhile the WAC (Philippine Workers’ Assistance Centre) and the union agreed to continue its strike against the Walmart supplier but that union members would help the factory fill its orders. They established a temporary production management committee to oversee production while Walmart contemplates its reaction. They demanded that contractual (non-union) workers would not exceed 20% of Chong Won’s workforce. They also demanded that Cong Won give priority to hiring union members and not to engage in subcontracting.
Responding to international pressure, Arroyo formed a fact-finding commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo to investigate the killings. But the commission was heavily criticised for its government bias. The commission’s report was presented in January 2007, but Arroyo refused to make its findings public. One Commission member revealed that the commission had determined that the military, private armies of some politicians and the NPA were all involved in the killings.
On 13 November 2006, the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) in the Philippines, which represents business groups from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, Japan and Korea, and the Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, called on Arroyo to put an end to the political assassinations or risk future foreign aid and investments.
On 23 January 2007, the EU again condemned the government-backed assassinations and human rights violations and again demanded that Arroyo put a stop to the attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives.
In February 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, investigated the extra-judicial killings. Alston called his findings distressing and urged Arroyo to persuade the Armed Forces to admit to the assassinations and to conduct a genuine investigation.
In a spring 2007 press releases, the CCC urged continued support for the striking CEPZ garment workers as government-sanctioned violence tried to disrupt the protests in front of DoLE’s offices.
On 29 March 2007, workers heard that Walmart was seriously considering abandoning Chong Won. The strikers and the CCC have always emphasised that pulling orders will not resolve the ongoing labour conflicts.
Responding to international pressure, Arroyo finally released the commission’s findings, which implicated the army in the extrajudicial killings without directly implicating the Arroyo government.
In June 2007, the KCTU filed an ILO complaint.
In September 2007, the KHIS (Korean House of International Solidarity), KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions), and WAC filed a complaint with the OECD.
In November 2007, the CCC reported on the police and private security guard assaults against striking workers in the CEPZ at the Chong Won and Phils Jeon factories. Chong Won strikers were protesting the dismissal of two union officials and management’s refusal to recognise the union’s collective bargaining (CBA) rights. Phils Jeon workers demanded their CBA rights and reinstatement of union president, Emmanuel Bautista.
The CCC and international labour support organisations continued to urge Chong Won’s major client, Walmart, to demand that Chong Won negotiate with the union. While Walmart did recommend reinstatement of the 117 dismissed union members, Walmart failed to pressure it into negotiating with the union.
In March 2008, a request to restart the campaign against Walmart was filed.
Chong Won is notorious for its anti-union tactics. It prohibits workers from joining a union, has dismissed strikers, has illegally employed scabs during a lawful strike, colluded with police to intimidate workers, ignoring Department of Labor and Employment legislation, refusing to bargain with a duly constituted union, and denying workers the right to work in the Cavite Economic Zone. These are just a selection of its violations of Philippine labour laws.
Chong Won also established a bogus “Caretaker Committee,” composed mostly of non-rank-and-file employees and non-union members and seemingly represents employees but is actually designed to undermine the legitimate union. The caretaker committee included supervisory personnel and was supported by approximately 100 temporary contract workers (neither of whom is legally entitled to be part of the union under Filipino law). Source: Maquila Solidarity.
Chong Won also hires non-union employees to dilute the union’s influence. By the end of 2006, there were only 90 union workers still employed at Chong Won.
The Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) site stated:
For the first time in MSN's experience, Walmart proved willing to engage with its critics and to take a stand on the right to freedom of association at its supply factory, rather than cutting and running from the controversial factory.
Unfortunately, the factory's management proved so resistant to the idea of a trade union at its factory that they preferred to forego Walmart's business and close the facility entirely rather than negotiate with the union. The Chong Won facility closed in the spring of 2007.
For MSN, the Chong Won campaign was significant in that Walmart accepted the results of a Verité report that addressed freedom of association at its supply factory and demanded respect for the workers trade union rights as a condition of future business. MSN was also able to harness the support of major foreign brands sourcing in the Philippines to push for human rights guarantees within the country.
However, the case illustrates how a recalcitrant owner can shut down its factory and open a new business even in situations where the buyer is supportive of corrective action. The challenge for the future is to identify the best ways and means of challenging the power of a manufacturer on all levels so that "cutting and running" at the manufacturer level becomes impossible. Our networks also need to successfully address the negative pressure from buyers (including lower prices and short lead times) that make acceptance of a trade union at the factory level anathema to factory owners.
See also these reports: