THE PHILIPPINES said it has taken steps to address labor concerns, in a bid to retain lower tax privileges from the United States, even as a special interest group argued the government has not done enough.
Both the Philippine Labor department and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) submitted post-hearing briefs to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) following the March 28 hearing for the country’s continued participation in the United States’ Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program.
The GSP is a trade assistance program that provides duty-free treatment of select goods from beneficiary developing countries.
For the Philippines, these include banana, sugar, edible oils, wood products, cotton fabrics, rattan products, footwear materials, ceramics and baskets, estimated to be worth $1.1 billion.
The current GSP program took effect on Nov. 5, 2011 and will end on July 31.
The Labor department said the government has instituted new guidelines for police officers and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on how to handle labor disputes and has expanded the definition of “extrajudicial killings” to include not just political activists but any person affiliated with an organization.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz also said that “The success of the Single Entry Approach and tripartism having enacted into law (Republic Acts 10396 and 10395) is largely due to the fact that department orders or administrative issuances were issued prior to their filing to the Congress.”
The “single entry approach” gives the Labor department 30 days to resolve labor cases.
RA 10395 promotes the use of tripartism to solve labor disputes while RA 10396 seeks to strengthen dispute settlement and conciliation and mediation.
Ms. Baldoz added the Labor department will refile House Bill (HB) 1564 and Senate Bill (SB) 632 or the Assumption of Jurisdiction bill and HB 1562 or the Union Registration Bill in the 16th Congress.
“The Union Registration Bill needs only minor adjustment on the percentage requirement and the fact it was passed in the Lower House and has reached second reading at the Senate would expedite its passage in the 16th Congress,” she said.
“With respect to assumption of jurisdiction or essential services bill, the strategy to expedite its passage includes the administrative issuance of a list of industries indispensable to the national interest using the essential services criteria and an inter-agency consultation with legislators,” she added.
HB 1564 and SB 632 remain pending in the committee level and seek to limit the assumption of jurisdiction by the Labor department in labor disputes to industries that provide essential services like hospitals and utilities.
HB 1562, which passed the Lower House on Jan. 29, seeks to remove restrictions on the number or percentage of workers who need to be members of a union before the union can be registered.
ILRF said it was not convinced that the steps taken by the Philippine government were enough and sought deferral of any decision by the USTR until the International Labor Organization (ILO) finishes its review of the Philippines’ labor issues in June.
“We request at this time that this case remain open pending resolution of the case before the ILO. Furthermore, we request that the US Government communicate to the ILO as well as the tripartite partners at the International Organization of Employers and the International Trade Union Confederation in advance of this June’s CAS (Committee on Application of Standards) that the Philippines is of utmost importance and should be addressed again this year in order to ensure that the Philippine government begin taking serious steps to ending government and employer violations of freedom of association,” ILRF said in its post-hearing brief.
A complaint filed by ILRF in 2007 to the USTR noted that the Philippines violated ILO’s conventions and denied the right of workers to organize via extra-judicial killings of labor leaders in free-trade zones.
The Labor department said on April 9 that USTR will give its decision on the Philippines’ GSP retention bid by June. –Emilia Narni J. David, Senior Reporter, Businessworld
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