Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of certain workers, except for the military, police, short-term contract employees, and some foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes; it prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights. Threats and violence against trade union leaders continued.
Laws and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. The law prohibits organizing by foreign national or migrant workers unless a reciprocity agreement exists with the workers’ countries of origin specifying that migrant workers from the Philippines are permitted to organize unions there. The law also bars temporary or outsourced workers and workers without employment contracts from joining a union. The law requires the participation of 20 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit where the union seeks to operate; the International Labor Organization (ILO) called this requirement excessive.
The law subjects all labor and employment disputes to mandatory mediation-conciliation for one month. The Department of Labor provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the department also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.
If mediation fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Strikes or lockouts must be related to acts of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining laws, or a collective bargaining deadlock. The law provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years for participation in an illegal strike, although there has never been such a conviction. The law also permits employers to dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike.
For a private-sector strike to be legal, unions must provide advance strike notice (30 days for collective bargaining matters and 15 days for unfair labor practice matters), respect mandatory cooling-off periods, and obtain approval from a majority of members. The Department of Labor and Employment’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board reported 351 mediation-conciliation cases from January to July. Of these, 271 cases were filed under preventive mediation and 80 under notices of strike or lockout. The National Conciliation and Mediation Board attributed the 76 percent increase of filed cases to the relaxing of COVID-19 protocols during the year, which increased workforce activity compared with the same period in 2020.
The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes under the threat of automatic dismissal. Government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes. Government workers may also assemble and express their grievances on the work premises during nonworking hours.
The secretary of the Department of Labor and in certain cases the president may intervene in labor disputes by assuming jurisdiction and mandating a settlement if either official determines that the strike-affected company is vital to the national interest. Essential sectors include hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other activities or industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council. Labor rights advocates continued to criticize the government for maintaining definitions of essential services that were broader than international standards.
In most cases the government respected freedom of association and collective bargaining and made some efforts to enforce laws protecting these rights. The Department of Labor has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Commission’s labor arbiter may also issue orders or writs of execution for reinstatement that go into effect immediately, requiring employers to reinstate the worker and report compliance to it. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review by the quasi-judicial commission, as they may constitute possible unfair labor practices. If there is a definite preliminary finding that a termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass layoff, the labor secretary may suspend the termination and restore the status quo pending resolution of the case.
Penalties under the law for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were generally not commensurate with similar crimes. Antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, is an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties that were not commensurate with analogous crimes, although generally civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties.
Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
The tripartite industrial peace council serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism on labor and employment for organized labor, employers, and government on the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also acts as the central entity for monitoring recommendations and ratifications of ILO conventions. The Department of Labor, through the industrial peace council, is responsible for coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases alleging violence and harassment of labor leaders and trade union activists pending before the ILO.
Workers faced several challenges in exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Some employers reportedly chose to employ workers who could not legally organize, such as short-term contract and foreign national workers, to minimize unionization and avoid other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The nongovernmental Center for Trade Union and Human Rights contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Employers also often abused contract labor provisions by rehiring employees shortly after the expiration of the previous contract. The Department of Labor reported multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.
Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the Special Economic Zones explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts by maintaining union-free or strike-free policies. Unions also claimed the government stationed security forces near industrial areas or Special Economic Zones to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in the zones used frivolous lawsuits to harass union leaders. Local zone directors claimed exclusive authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Employers controlled hiring through special zone labor centers. For these reasons, and in part due to organizers’ restricted access to the closely guarded zones and the propensity among zone establishments to adopt fixed term, casual, temporary, or seasonal employment contracts, unions had little success organizing in the Special Economic Zones. The Department of Labor does not have data on compliance with labor standards in the zones.
Threats and violence against union members continued. In March the Department of Interior and Local Government ordered its regional offices to compile lists of employees who belong to two trade unions, the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and the union of Philippine Senate employees. The department alleged that these were affiliated with the Communist Party.
On March 7, “Bloody Sunday” (see section 1.a.), among those whom police shot and killed was human rights and labor activist Manny Asuncion, shot outside the Workers’ Assistance Center office in Cavite. A former factory worker, Asuncion had advocated for increases in the minimum wage. On March 28, the president of the trade union at an electronics manufacturing company in Cavite and vice-chairperson of a regional labor federation, Dandy Miguel, was shot eight times by an unidentified assailant shortly after leaving work wearing a union T-shirt reading “fight for wages, work, rights.” Similar attacks on nine other activists occurred within a month of Miguel’s killing.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Although legal penalties were commensurate with similar crimes, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
The government continued awareness-raising activities, especially in the provinces, to prevent forced labor. The Department of Labor’s efforts included an orientation program for recruits for commercial fishing vessels, who were among the workers most vulnerable to forced labor conditions.
Reports of forced labor by adults and children continued, mainly in fishing and other maritime industries, small-scale factories, gold mines, domestic service, agriculture, and other areas of the informal sector (see section 7.c.). According to NGOs and survivors, unscrupulous employers subjected women from rural communities and impoverished urban centers to domestic service, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. They also subjected men to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations and in fishing and other maritime industries. Trade unions reported that continued poor compliance with the law was due in part to the government’s lack of capacity to inspect labor practices in the informal economy.
There were reports some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law. Inmates were only allowed to perform manual labor within prisons at the inmates’ request.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employing children younger than age 15, including for domestic service, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians, and sets the maximum number of working hours for them at four hours per day and no more than 20 hours per week. The law also prohibits all the worst forms of child labor.
Children between 15 and 17 are limited to eight working hours per day, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. The law forbids the employment of persons younger than 18 in hazardous work. The minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, enticing some children to leave school before the completion of their compulsory education.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the government imposed fines and instituted criminal prosecutions for child labor law violations in the formal sector, for example in manufacturing, it did not do so effectively or consistently. Fines for child labor law violations were not commensurate with analogous crimes.
From January to July, the Department of Labor, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program, conducted nine operations and removed 18 minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of July the department issued a temporary closure order on a construction business for violating child labor laws, rescuing six minors. Operations under the Sagip Batang Manggagawa program were conducted in karaoke bars, massage parlors, saunas, bathhouses, and farms to target child labor and were in addition to the standard labor inspection process. They were unable to search private homes for underage workers employed for domestic work or in home-based businesses.
The government, in coordination with domestic NGOs and international organizations, continued to implement programs to develop safer options for children, return them to school, and offer families viable economic alternatives to child labor. The Department of Labor continued efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor and to remove children from hazardous work under the Convergence Program. Inspections as of October found four establishments employing 24 minors. All four establishments were found to have violated the Anti-Child Labor Law and were immediately corrected.
Despite these efforts, child labor remained a widespread problem. Cases reported to the Department of Labor focused on domestic service and the agricultural sector, notably in the fishing, palm oil, and sugar cane industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as gold mining, manufacturing (including of fireworks), domestic service, drug trafficking, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments.
NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation.
Online sexual exploitation of children and child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see sections 6 and 1.g., respectively).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on age; sex; race; creed; disability; HIV, tuberculosis, or hepatitis B status; or marital status. The law does not prohibit employment discrimination with respect to religion, color, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, other communicable disease status, or social origin. While some local antidiscrimination ordinances exist at the municipal or city levels that prohibit employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender – but not intersex – persons, there was no prohibition against such discrimination in national legislation. The law requires most government agencies and government-owned corporations to reserve 1 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities; government agencies engaged in social development must reserve 5 percent. The law commits the government to provide “sheltered employment” to persons with disabilities in segregated workshops and facilities. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Local Employment maintained registers of persons with disabilities that indicated their skills and abilities and promoted the establishment of cooperatives and self-employment projects for such persons.
Persons with disabilities nonetheless experienced discrimination in hiring and employment. The Department of Labor estimated that 10 percent of employable persons with disabilities were able to find work. Between January and July, no cases were known to be filed to enforce the disability discrimination law. The government did not effectively monitor laws prohibiting employment discrimination or promoting the employment of persons with disabilities. Penalties were commensurate with other crimes. The government had limited means to assist persons with disabilities in finding employment, and the cost of filing a lawsuit and lack of effective administrative means of redress limited the recourse of such persons when prospective employers violated their rights.
Discrimination in employment and occupation against LGBTQI+ persons occurred; several LGBTQI+ organizations submitted anecdotal reports of discriminatory practices that affected the employment of LGBTQI+ persons. Discrimination cases included the enforcement of rules, policies, and regulations that disadvantaged LGBTQI+ persons in the workplace.
Women faced discrimination both in hiring and on the job. Some labor unions claimed female employees suffered punitive action when they became pregnant. Although women faced workplace discrimination, they occupied positions at all levels of the workforce.
Women and men were subject to systematic age discrimination, most notably in hiring.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour: Official minimum wages were below the poverty line. By law the standard workweek is 48 hours for most categories of industrial workers and 40 hours for government workers, with an eight hour per day limit. The law mandates one day of rest each week. The government mandates an overtime rate of 125 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days, 130 percent on special nonworking days, and 200 percent on regular holidays. There is no legal limit on the number of overtime hours that an employer may require.
The wage and hour law did not cover many workers, since wage boards exempted certain employers such as distressed establishments, new business enterprises, retail and service establishments with fewer than 10 employees and establishments affected by natural calamities.
Domestic workers worked under a separate wage and benefit system that lays out minimum wage requirements, significantly lower than regular minimum wage requirements, and payments into social welfare programs, and mandates one day off a week. While there were no reliable recent data, informed observers believed two million or more persons were employed as domestic workers, with nearly 85 percent being women or girls, some as young as age 15.
Penalties for noncompliance with minimum wage rates are modest fines, imprisonment of one to two years, or both. In addition to fines, the government used administrative procedures and moral persuasion to encourage employers to rectify violations voluntarily. The penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage laws. Violations of minimum wage standards were common. Many firms hired employees for less than minimum wage apprentice rates, even if there was no approved training in their work. Complaints about payment below the minimum wage and nonpayment of social security contributions and bonuses were particularly common at companies in the Special Economic Zones.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for a comprehensive set of appropriate occupational safety and health standards. Regulations for small-scale mining, for example, prohibit certain harmful practices, including the use of mercury and underwater, or compressor, mining. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Working Conditions monitors and inspects compliance with wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws in all sectors, including workers in the formal and informal sectors, and nontraditional laborers. It also inspects Special Economic Zones and businesses located there. The number of labor inspectors who monitor and enforce the law, including by inspecting compliance with core labor and occupational safety standards and minimum wages, was insufficient for the workforce of 42 million, particularly in rural areas. The Department of Labor prioritized increasing the number of inspectors while acknowledging that insufficient inspection funds continued to impede its ability to investigate labor law violations effectively, especially in the informal sector and in small- and medium-sized enterprises.
The Department of Labor continued to implement its Labor Laws Compliance System for the private sector. The system included joint assessments, compliance visits, and occupational safety and health investigations. Department of Labor inspectors conducted joint assessments with employer and worker representatives; inspectors also conducted unannounced compliance visits and occupational safety and health standards investigations. The Department of Labor and the ILO also continued to implement an information management system to capture and transmit data from the field in real time using mobile technology. Violations from January to July dropped significantly from the same period in 2020 because of COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.
Following a deficiency finding, the Department of Labor may issue compliance orders that may include a fine or, if the deficiency poses a grave and imminent danger to workers, suspend operations. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Working Conditions did not close any establishments during the year. Such closures require prior notification and hearings.
During the year various labor groups criticized the government’s enforcement efforts, in particular the Department of Labor’s lax monitoring of occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. Between January and July, the Bureau of Working Conditions recorded 84 work-related accidents that caused 64 deaths and 43 injuries. Statistics on work-related accidents and illnesses were incomplete, as incidents were underreported, especially in agriculture.
A Labor Department order sets guidelines on the use of labor contracting and subcontracting. Some labor unions, however, criticized the order for not restricting forms of regular, short-term temporary contractual work and subcontracting, which they reported can be used to undermine worker protections.
There were also gaps in the law, and the government enforced contracting and occupational safety and health laws inconsistently. Media reported, for example, problems in the implementation and enforcement of the domestic worker’s law, including a tedious registration process, an additional financial burden on employers, and difficulty in monitoring employer compliance.
The government and several NGOs worked to protect the rights of the country’s overseas citizens, most of whom were Philippine Overseas Employment Agency contract or temporary workers. Although the agency registered and supervised domestic recruiter practices, authorities often lacked sufficient resources to provide complete worker protection overseas. The Overseas Worker Welfare Administration provides support to overseas workers in filing grievances against employers via its legal assistance fund. The fund covers administrative costs that would otherwise prevent overseas workers from filing grievance complaints. Covered costs include fees for court typing and translation, visa cancellation, and contract termination.
The government continued to place financial sanctions on, and bring criminal charges against, domestic recruiting agencies found guilty of unfair labor practices.
Informal Sector: Nearly 40 percent of the country’s workforce was in the informal sector. They were covered by labor law but did not receive social benefits similar to workers in the formal economy. The informal sector includes small and microenterprises, agricultural workers, and domestic helpers. The government’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program is a community-based package which provided short-term emergency employment to displaced, underemployed, informal-sector workers.