DTDA and FFW join forces to fight for rights post-Covid in the Philippines

Trade unions are trying to stop the Philippines’ anti-democratic trends and violations of workers’ rights that emerged during the pandemic.

Nilda Yambao, 50, is a motorcycle courier and every day, she races the streets of Manila delivering items that people have ordered in webshops. Her quota is 50 parcels a day. Some days she delivers more than 100.

”I want the union to be recognised so we can demand better pay and improved working conditions,” she says.

”In my age, and in particular during the pandemic, it is difficult to find jobs. I want to keep this job. And with the union, together we can make this job worth keeping,” Nilda Yambao says.

Declining democracy

The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to the shrinking of an already declining democratic space in the Philippines. The country has a long and not-so-glorious history of human rights violations and suppression of civil society, trade unions, media, and activists. Several times, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has raised issues of abuse of freedom of association, military intervention in labour matters, and arrests of trade union leaders, not to mention violence, torture, and kidnappings. The Philippines is the second most dangerous country for trade union leaders in the world, only surpassed by Colombia.

And things have only gotten worse throughout the pandemic. Covid-19 has been the excuse for further curtailing liberty and human rights. The Philippines went through a tough lockdown with restrictions on labour and public transport. Many workers were unable to go to work and layoffs without compensation were rampant.
The confederation FFW (Federation of Free Workers), which is partner of the Danish Trade Union Development Agency (DTDA), has the view that the Philippine government has used the pandemic to increase the oppression.

Women are the most affected

Women workers like Nilda Yambo have been mostly affected. The pandemic has accelerated layoffs, harassment, violence both on the job and the homes, and more unpaid duties of care and housework.

The Philippine umbrella organisation Nagkaisa (a coalition of labour organisations including FFW) is part of a project supported by DTDA and the Danish organisation Civil Society in Development (CISU) with the aim of improving working conditions and social dialogue with both the employers and the government. And there is plenty to do. Even during frequent tropical typhoons, the demands of employers are boundless.

”I’d wish that the company didn’t force us to work when there’s a typhoon. Even if the streets are about to be flooded, we are still forced to work and carry out the usual deliveries. We are even held responsible for the parcels,” Nilda Yambao says.

Trade unions harrassed

The absurd example of the typhoons can be compared with the situation during Covid-19. At the time, there was basically a state of emergency that also affected workers’ rights, and it highlighted several already existing problems. For example, Nilda Yambao does not have an insurance, as the company does not provide one. If she gets an injury at work, there is no compensation. If something happens to the parcels, she is the one to cover the damages. Her daily salary is 6.50 USD a day for delivering 50 parcels. If she delivers more than the quota, she gets 1 cent per delivery. In other words, if she delivers 100 packages a day, she will earn 7 dollars a day.

The workers and riders at the delivery company have filed a case of illegal dismissal and unfair labour practice, which includes union busting, harassment of union officers, forced resignation, child labour, non-payment of overtime, night differential, diminution of benefits, and violation of organisational health and safety laws.

On 4 June 2022, the workers went on strike to protest against the sacking of their joint shop steward – and all the other issues. The Ministry of Labour managed to resolve the dispute, and the dismissal was declared void. The union is about to be officially registered which is a victory for the trade union movement.

The delivery company has made fortunes throughout the pandemic but with a cost of the workers’ rights and welfare. The de facto state of emergency has made union work harder. The authorities have clamped down on irregularities in production in connection with stoppages and categorised them as terror – which obviously is an extremely serious accusation.

The DTDA support to the Nagkasia project mitigation of the shrinking space of civil society is aimed at concrete education and training of shop stewards and development of policies that will contribute to improving the safety, improvement of rights and support in case of sickness. The long-term goal is tripartite negotiations that will give voice to the workers when dealing with employers and the government.

By Jacob Rosdahl, Danish Trade Union Development Agency – DTDA.