By Rene Ofreneo – January 24, 2019
The Manila Office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) have drafted a Decent Work Country Program (DWCP) for 2018-2024. The overall thrust of the DWCP is to promote full and productive decent work for all Filipinos. The term “decent work” has been defined by ILO as work obtained in conditions of freedom, dignity, equality and security.
The ILO’s Decent Work Agenda was launched in 1999-2000 by then ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. It was partly a response to the rising tide of labor anger against the excesses of neo-liberal globalization. A vivid expression of this anger was the riotous collapse of the 1999 Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle. Trade unions, civil society organizations and governments of a number of developing countries opposed to imbalances under global free trade shut down the Seattle Ministerial and the succeeding WTO Ministerial Conferences (in 2003 in Cancun, in 2005 in Hong Kong, etc.).
The goals of the DWCP are laudable — creation of jobs for all workers, guarantees in the exercise by all workers of their rights, extension of social protection to all workers, and productive social dialogue for the benefit of all workers. As the authors of the DWCP put it, the appropriate development approach in achieving the foregoing is through the adoption of the whole-of-government or whole-of-society approach. Inclusive. Walang maiiwan at walang makakaligtaan.
The problem is how to translate the foregoing into reality. A perusal of the draft DWCP and the accompanying draft priority matrices indicates that there are gaps, serious gaps in the decent work programming undertaken by DOLE and the ILO Manila Office.
First, the DWCP is overwhelmingly focused on the traditional target of the DOLE work program: the paid workers in the narrow formal labor market. The large informal economy or sector, which accounts for at least two-thirds of the labor force per estimate by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, is given only marginal attention. For example, there is hardly any discussion on the recognition of the rights of informal sector workers’ associations, such as those formed by transport workers, vendors, fisherfolk, farmers, home-based workers and so on and so forth. Where is the whole-of-government or whole-of-society approach to development?
One ready explanation for the failure of the DWCP authors to consider the situation of the informal sector is the well-entrenched system of tripartism in industrial relations and in the ILO system itself. As a backgrounder, tripartism is a product of the 2nd Industrial Revolution. The ILO founders then imagined that the then emerging industrial society based on mass production would be represented by only three major social partners – government, industrial employers and organized industrial workers. However, the world of work has not developed this way. Instead, what we see is the uneven and segmented development of the economy and labor market in almost all countries. Thus, western scholars are now talking of “varieties of capitalism” and “varieties of trade unionism”.
In the Philippines, we have the formal/informal divide in the labor market, with each sector divided further into so many distinct segments. The 2017 ILO Diagnostics on Decent Work in the Philippines is quite telling: just a little over 200,000 workers, out of a labor force of 42 million to 43 million in 2016, were covered by collective bargaining agreements. Hence, large segments of the formal labor market are invisible in the tripartite system. More so the workers in the huge informal labor market. Many employers, mostly those belonging to the MSME galaxy (99.6 percent of the registered enterprises), are also not represented in the tripartite system.
However, DOLE and ILO need not abandon or set aside tripartism to be able to reach out to the formal and informal sectors of the labor market and all major segments of the labor force under each sector. What is needed is to set up new institutions or mechanisms of consultation, dialogue and representation that will allow workers in all these sectors and segments of the labor force to have a voice. A system of multi-partism is clearly in order.
In this regard, the DWCP authors should have looked into the proposed Magna Carta for Workers in the Informal Economy (MACWIE), a bill pending in Congress. It provides, among other things, for a system of recognizing the rights of informal workers and a system of registering informal worker associations. The Philippines should also learn from India, which has recognized the rights of women in the informal economy to associate and has allowed them to register their organizations as unions. Thus, the biggest unions in India today are non-factory associations such as the Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA) based in Ahmedabad. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has now recognized these associations of home-based workers, street vendors, non-corporate construction workers, and waste recyclers as unions.
As to labor market governance in the formal sector, the system of representation and social dialogue can be improved, broadened and deepened. First, in the case of the public sector, it is about time that an enabling law on public sector industrial relations be enacted. Unionism and collective negotiations in the public sector are relatively ineffective because there are no enabling laws, especially on grievance and dispute settlement. Second, there should be a system of recognizing the rights of non-regular workers to form associations and bargain. The non-regulars, including the “endos” and the numerous agency and project workers, easily outnumber the regulars. In Japan, they now have unions of dispatched and part-time workers.
Thirdly, there is a provision in the Labor Code, which states that “workers shall have the right…to participate in policy and decision-making processes of the establishment where they are employed insofar as said processes will directly affect their rights, benefits, and welfare.” (paragraph 2, Article 255 [renumbered as Article 267]). In short, all major establishments, unionized or not, are mandated to develop a system of employee consultation in the formulation of personnel policies. To make this provision work, the DOLE secretary can issue the needed rules and regulations, as indicated in the said Article. But what will prevent the DWCP authors from pointing this out in the draft program and even suggesting an enabling law?
There are also some points raised in the DWCP, which need to be fleshed out or clarified. For example, job creation is often equated to increased participation in the global value chains (GVCs). Is this really the way forward to job creation? Are GVCs, including the offshored business processes, not in danger of shrinking under the Fourth Industrial Revolution due to the rise of the robots, artificial intelligence and other technological advances? Are the DWCP authors aware that labor market analysts are now discussing the phenomenon of “re-shoring”, meaning outsourced industrial facilities being brought back by the multinationals to their home countries because the technology revolution is making global outsourcing superfluous? Thus, by 2024, it is possible that the country might even see less, not more, GVC jobs.
On another front, the DWCP hails the jobs creation potential of the build-build-build (BBB) infrastructure program with its trillion-peso budget. But should the BBB program not be subjected to the parameters of decent work standards? For example, are there guarantees that BBB construction workers shall be given decent wages and decent work conditions? Will there be BBB projects for the urban poor and rural poor communities? And yes, are we building infras mainly for the benefit of the rich and developed communities? If so, how will Philippine society look like in 2024 or in 2030 or in 2040, when the country is supposed to become a developed middle-class economy?
Finally, to make jobs decent for as many, if not all, Filipino workers, the government should also pay attention to urgent social and economic reforms such as agrarian reform, aquatic reform, housing reform, education reform and so on. These socio-economic reforms are most needed in the informal economy to make jobs and livelihoods decent and sustainable. Again, discussion of these reforms in the DWCP is minimal.
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