Philippine Trade Unions put decent work high in the UN Agenda

Philippine trade unions met with UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Gustavo Gonzalez to present the joint trade union position paper on the UN Socioeconomic and Peacebuilding Framework for Covid-19 Recovery in the Philippines (SEPF) 2020-2023. With the SEPF as the entry point for the meeting on May 28, the trade unions plan to engage the UN for the long haul.

by Julius Cainglet, FFW

The meeting between the United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC) and trade unions was more than a year in the making. While the effort put into it took a couple of years more.

The first time the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) floated the idea of a dialogue in 2019 as part of the plan of the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network (TUDCN), Philippine trade unions had no UNRC to talk to, as no one was appointed to the position yet.

When a UNRC was finally appointed and moved to Manila, plans for the meeting were eventually stifled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last year, the UN SEPF process began. Having had no part in the initial stages, workers saw it as an opportune time to express their views on the recovery framework and introduce themselves to the UNRC, who acts as the head of the “One UN” team in the country. Thus, trade unions crafted a joint position paper on the SEPF, through a process supported by the ILO Office in Manila and ACTRAV in the region.

In a letter by the FFW on behalf of trade unions and workers organisations addressed to UNRC Gustavo Gonzalez, the joint position paper was submitted together with an invitation to a meeting. ILO Manila Director Khalid Hassan helped facilitate the meeting.

The SEPF joint position paper took off from the first joint position paper of trade unions vis-à-vis the Voluntary National Review (VNR) of the Philippine government on the progress made towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Workers and trade unions did not want the government’s presentation of a rosy picture at both the UNESCAP Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development and UN High Level Political Forum on the SDGs to go unchallenged. The true situation on the ground as experienced by workers, trade unions and other rights defenders must be presented.

For that exercise, trade unions critiqued the government report on SDG 8 and its intersectionality with the other goals - section-by-section, line-by-line - while utilising the ITUC TUDCN SDG 8 Monitoring Tool.

This proved to be very useful as workers, through its position paper, bolstered the ILC Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) Resolution to send a Tripartite High Level Mission to the Philippines to look into the killings of trade union leaders and organisers, and other violations of freedom of association principles.

The joint position paper on the SEPF followed the same path of consultations and focus group discussions that occurred for the Philippine VNR Report.

To prepare even more, trade unions familiarised themselves with the UN Reform Process and how to situate the SEPF through conversations with ILO Manila and the ILO ACTRAV early this year.

Philippine trade unions also looked at the SEPF through the lens of the ILO Decent Work Country Program developed under the National Tripartite Advisory Council on the Philippine Decent Work Agenda.

Coming up with the joint position paper was a process of consensus-building for a trade union movement with diverse ideological backgrounds, overcoming their differences for the common good.

Leading up to the meeting with the UNRC, trade unions have started meeting with UN agencies outside of the ILO on the issue of human and civil and political rights, through the Senior Human Rights Advisor, who has also graced a number of trade union activities of the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition.

The UNRC Gonzalez reported that workers and trade unions were the first major group they were able to consult with on the SEPF. The groundbreaking meeting with the UNRC was immediately followed by a meeting with the UN Country Team on 8 June.

Among others, a joint trade union-UN Country Team will be established to look into areas of direct cooperation between trade unions and the different UN agencies. Trade unions are planning to get into the structures of the UN agencies, much like how it has done with the ILO.