Workers’ Rights Caught in the Crossfire in Mindanao, Philippines

Unions warn that further abuses are in sight following the extension of martial law in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao. At the request of President Rodrigo Duterte, direct military control has been extended until the end of 2019.

“Working people and their families are bearing the brunt of President Duterte’s divisive politics. Extending martial law in Mindanao gives the green light to further militarisation of workplaces and entire communities. Meanwhile, the government is ignoring exploitative conditions that are going unchecked throughout the region,” commented Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC.

The news comes after 18 months of martial law in the region, during which violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights have been frequent. Workers facing abusive conditions no longer have recourse to labour law, and the right to strike is experiencing severe restrictions. Banana workers from Mindanao have had no other option than to take their grievances about multinational Sumifru to Manila. They travelled over 1,700 km to the capital following a military expulsion that threatened the security of their strike.

“Extending martial law is akin to treating the symptoms while ignoring the root cause of the instability. The culture of impunity has worsened since the anti-narcotics campaign. You cannot achieve sustainable peace by razing peoples’ rights. Building social consensus takes commitment to social dialogue. A prerequisite to that is ensuring that workers’ rights are respected,” explained Burrow.

This is the third extension of martial law in Mindanao. The anti-narcotics campaign has already killed 4,500 people according to official figures, and an estimated 12,000 according to human rights organisations. “Martial law is meant to resolve emergency situations, not create them. The people of Mindanao are growing weary of the situation, which is having a devastating impact on working life. There is no legitimate reason to extend the martial law, instead the government needs to sit with unions to find a solution before this unacceptable situation becomes the norm,” concluded Burrow.