As delegates from the International Labour Organization (ILO) are set to visit the Philippines starting January 23 for the High-Level Tripartite Mission that aims to investigate various labor and human rights violation reports in the country, informal workers represented by PISTON (Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide), a national federation of jeepney and other small-capacity vehicle transport associations, and KADAMAY (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap), a national alliance of Filipino urban poor, are at one with the Philippine labor movement in calling for accountability for the labor and human rights violations committed by the state under the previous Duterte and the current Marcos Jr administrations and in demanding for stronger mechanisms in protecting the people’s right to organize.
The ILO defines informal work as “all economic activities that are – in law or practice – not covered or sufficiently covered by formal arrangements.” In 2002, the ILO’s International Labour Conference included a major discussion on the informal economy. It recognized that informal workers are workers and that the global trade union movement and that governments have a duty to support and help build strong organizations and representations from the informal economy. This was subsequently reinforced in 2015 when ILO adopted the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation.
Small-capacity passenger transport workers and community-based informal workers make up most of the organized labor in the Philippine informal economy. They provide essential services for millions of Filipinos across the country. Yet they face job insecurity, low incomes, no access to social security, brutal police harassment, illegal detention, extra-judicial killings, and other human rights violations
State violence toward informal passenger transport workers
PISTON has reported numerous cases of state-sanctioned harassment, illegal detention due to trumped-up charges, attempted murder, cancellation of vehicle franchises, criminal extortion, and red-tagging. Attempts to strife their right to organize, strike, and collectively bargain with state authorities stem from the skewed basis, process, and methodology in the implementation of the so-called Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) of the Philippine government.
Through the PUVMP, the Philippine government plans to replace the iconic jeepneys with expensive and imported electric and hybrid “modern” vehicles but is offering the drivers and operators little or nothing in support for the transition. Since the end of 2015, jeepney drivers and operators have resisted this scheme through organized petitions, mass demonstrations, and transport strikes. Instead of heeding their demands, the government has threatened and canceled the franchises of operators who joined the protests and strikes and those who refuse to partake in the PUVMP. The insecure nature of informal work in the public transport industry has since become more precarious and susceptible to state repression.
Community-based informal workers are not spared from rights violations
Most informal workers are concentrated in urban poor communities all over the country. They are mostly domestic workers, vendors, and construction workers who are organized in people’s organizations campaigning for decent livelihoods, formal work, livable wages, food security, affordable public housing, and general social protection programs. KADAMAY and other local and community-based organizations have not been spared from the attacks and human rights violations by state forces. The group has reported various cases of harassment, red-tagging, illegal arrests, militarization, forced surrender, and the killing of KADAMAY national secretary-general Carlito Badion in 2020.
Informal worker residents in urban poor communities all over the country organized under KADAMAY and other local community organizations have been harassed by state agents of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). They were tagged as armed communist rebels, forced to “surrender” to the government, and renounce their membership in their respective organizations.
Uphold the informal workers’ right to organize
Through the ILO-HLTM, PISTON and KADAMAY are demanding accountability for these reported attacks. As food prices and other basic commodities continue to rise, incomes and livelihoods of workers continue to fall, making informal work more precarious. Yet, government resources that are supposed to be allocated for social welfare are lavishly spent on unnecessary foreign trips and plundered through a skewed counter-insurgency program that targets workers organizing for better working and social conditions. These conditions make organizing and collective action even more right and just. Furthermore, the groups are also calling for better recognition of the informal workers’ Freedom of Association. This includes a stronger and more accessible mechanism for establishing a procedural agreement for negotiation with government agencies for better social protection. It is clear that all workers, irrespective of their employment relationships, are entitled to freely organize and engage in collective bargaining to resolve the issues facing their communities or workplaces. They also demand the national government to implement policies that will improve their living and working conditions such as a livable national minimum wage, and security of tenure, among others.