US commerce chief meets unions for pulse of PH labor | Global News

US commerce chief meets unions for pulse of PH labor

By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 05:35 AM March 16, 2024



Five of the country’s biggest labor organizations met early this week with US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo during her two-day trade mission together with almost two dozen American companies exploring business opportunities in the Philippines.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLink) and BPO Industry Employees Network (Bien) said they had a “meaningful candid meeting” with the visiting US official, where they discussed issues concerning workers’ rights and the need for labor reforms in the Philippines.


Reforms lauded

On Monday, Raimondo met with President Marcos at Malacañang, where she said the 22 companies who joined the first-ever US Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines would be committing investments in the country worth more than $1 billion (about P56 million).


In a statement on Tuesday, the US Department of Commerce said Raimondo “commended the Philippine government for recent legal and regulatory reforms undertaken to open key sectors, such as renewable energy, railways, airports, expressways, and telecommunications to 100-percent foreign ownership.”

Foreign business groups in the country have weighed in on the ongoing discussions in Congress to amend the Constitution’s provisions limiting foreign ownership in key economic sectors.

Unfair labor practices

The department also said Raimondo met on Tuesday with “several representatives of Philippines labor organizations to hear their views on labor rights issues.”

Such issues are a significant consideration for investors looking into the Philippines, as often stressed by business groups. “The Secretary emphasized the importance that the [Biden administration] places on advancing labor rights and raising labor standards globally to support more sustainable and inclusive economies,” the US commerce department said.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the labor groups who met with Raimondo said she was “very concerned” about the local labor situation, particularly regarding workers’ rights, and asked for a list of US companies in the Philippines that are accused of unfair labor practices.

Will raise the issues

“She committed to raising these issues affecting Filipino workers and unionists, ranging from Red-tagging to extrajudicial killings, to the relevant American companies,” said the labor groups led by House Deputy Speaker and TUCP president Raymond Mendoza.


“These [violations] include the imperative to end the rampant violation of freedom of association [by] American brands and locators in the Philippines wherein a union-averse company can transfer their production and orders anytime and anywhere to bust unions, sending a chilling effect to labor organizing now and in the future,” they said.

Besides Mendoza and TUCP vice president Louis Corral, the other labor leaders in the meeting were Sentro secretary general Joshua Mata, FFW president Sonny Matula, Bien president Mylene Cabalona and PSLink president Annie Geron.

Also present were Khalid Hassan, country director of the International Labor Organization (ILO); US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson; and US regional attaché Mario Fernandez.

Raimondo underscored Biden’s commitment “to place workers front and center by promoting trade unionism and advancing worker-centered trade policies,” they said.

READ: US consumer spending slows; labor market steadily easing

Biden issued a memorandum in November 2023 saying his administration will pursue a whole-of-government approach in advancing workers’ rights and labor standards globally.

Raimondo also raised at the meeting the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (Ipef)—a program aimed at promoting labor rights which Washington launched in May 2022 with 13 partner-countries, including the Philippines.

ILO findings

The labor leaders also cited the findings of an ILO mission in the Philippines in January 2023, which reported several incidents of freedom of association being violated, as well as the Red-tagging and killing of trade unionists.

They recalled to Raimondo the US President’s remarks in a previous State of the Union Address, where he said “The middle class built this country! And unions built the middle class!”

“It is in this same spirit that the Philippine labor movement calls on the US government to hold the Philippines to account [with regards to] all recommendations [by] the ILO and addressing all violations of workers’ fundamental labor rights to freedom of association, as a condition for access to the US General System of Preferences (GSP) and Ipef,” the labor leaders said.

They were referring to the US trade program that excludes developing countries from duties on their products.

Priority legislation

Still on the ILO’s recommendations, the labor leaders expressed support for priority legislation that would further protect freedom of association and its certification by the President as an urgent measure.

They also called for the issuance of an executive order covering economic zones and an increase in the budget of the Commission on Human Rights for its investigation into practices that violate freedom of association. INQ

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In a joint statement on Thursday, the labor groups who met with Raimondo said she was ‘very concerned’ about the country’s labor situation, particularly concerning workers’ rights, and asked them for a list of US companies in the Philippines that allegedly commit unfair labor practices

TAGS: Commerce, Labor, US

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