June 16, 2009
Striking workers met with batons
At the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) annual conference last week in Geneva, the Government of the Philippines finally agreed to allow a High-Level ILO Mission to visit the country and investigate extrajudicial killings of labour rights advocates. Trade unions in the Philippines have been trying for two years to initiate an international investigation but had been blocked by government and employer delegations.
The ILO investigation will focus on the implementation of ILO Convention 87 on the right to Freedom of Association. In announcing the investigation, the ILO referred to “serious allegations of the murder of trade unionists, death threats, arrests of trade union leaders in connection with their trade union activities, widespread impunity relating to violence against trade unionists and the militarization of workplaces in export processing zones (EPZs) and special economic zones.”
The investigation is expected to report back before the end of the year.
On April 21, ten major Canadian faith, labour and non-governmental organizations under the auspices of the Ethical Trading Action Group wrote to the Government of the Philippines urging acceptance of an ILO investigation and other measures to end the violence and harassment against trade union activists in the country. In Canada, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Canadian Labour Congress lobbied labour and employer delegates to the ILO conference to ensure that the Philippines case would be heard and acted on. At the conference, the effort was further spearheaded by the Australian Confederation of Trade Unions.
While the announcement of the ILO Mission is a positive step, much remains to be done. The ILO Committee of Experts noted that it “remained concerned at the allegations of a continuing situation of violence against trade unionists and urged the Government once again to ensure that all necessary measures were taken to restore a climate of complete freedom and security from violence and threats and bring an end to impunity so that workers and employers could fully exercise their freedom of association rights.”