COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
On the Occasion of the Forum on the Recently Concluded Goldilocks Strike
Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation Auditorium, Quezon City
20 April 2010
Keynote Speech delivered by
LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
HUMAN RIGHTS PERSPECTIVE
ON THE RIGHT TO WORK
I. The Culture of Impunity
A. Abuses by Government
One of the things that we at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) continue to condemn is the culture of impunity which prevails in the Philippines. Activists have been abducted and killed, detainees have been tortured, and community members have been coerced, intimidated and injured, and yet in many cases the perpetrators of these abuses have not been caught, prosecuted or convicted.
B. Abuses by Companies
The culture of impunity protects not just violations on the part of government, however, but also abuses carried out or colluded in by private companies and their managers. Employees have been illegally terminated, legitimate unions have been undermined, and companies have blatantly refused to provide their workers with the benefits required by law. Even if these violations are expressly punished in the Labor Code of the Philippines and human rights law, too many firms and employers continue to evade meaningful accountability.
Impunity rewards those who commit violations, and sends the deplorable message that the powerful, the well connected and the wealthy, are able to place themselves above the law. This impunity is appalling and unacceptable, but every once in a while, we witness a situation which demonstrates that even the wealthy can be compelled to adhere to the law, that even the well connected do not always get their way, and that a concerted, sustained and principled effort on the part of employees, can force even the powerful to take heed and change their stance.
Ang kawalan ng pagpataw ng hustisya sa mga taong lumalabag sa mga karapatang pantao, ay nagbibigay ng nakababahalang mensage na ang mga may kapangyarihan, may koneksyon, at may kayamanan, ay hindi napapailalim sa batas. Ang sitwasyong ito ay hindi nararapat at hindi katanggap-tanggap. Subalit kahit na ganito ang madalas na nangyayari, paminsan-minsan may mga pagkakataon na kahit ang mga mayayaman ay napipilitang sumunod sa batas, na hindi lahat ng kagustuhan ng mga may koneksyon ay palaging nasusunod, at sa pamamagitan ng patuloy at sama-samang pakikibaka ng mga empleyado, kahit ang mga makapangyarihan ay napipilitang makinig at magbago.
It is these victories against the culture of impunity which reveal that accountability is still possible in our country, and that impunity is not necessarily the ultimate fate of our nation. The successes which take place validate our efforts, refocus our energies and renew our hope. And the recent positive outcome of the strike against the Goldilocks Bakeshop Inc., is one such example.
II. The Successful Outcome of the Strike Against Goldilocks
Therefore, allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate the Bukluran ng Independenteng Samahan na Itinatag sa Goldilocks–Association of Genuine Labor Organization–Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, or BISIG-AGLO-BMP.
The courage you demonstrated in the face of hardship and intimidation will embolden other human rights advocates suffering from difficult circumstances. Your commitment to standing up for your rights, in the face of fierce at at times acrimonious resistance from management, will help bolster the collective will of local advocates and diminish doubt, especially during those moments when the human rights landscape appears to be particularly bleak. And the principled manner in which you acted, on the whole, offers a template for future action on behalf of workers and their human rights. For your courage, your commitment and your principled stand, we at the CHR thank you.
Ang tapang na pinakita ng BISIG-AGLO-BMP, sa harap ng hirap at pananakot, ay makakadagdag sa tapang ng ibang mga nakikibaka para sa mga karapatang pantao. Ang patuloy ninyong paninindigan para sa inyong mga karapatan ay makakapagbigay-kumpyansa sa ibang mga tao at organisasyon, lalo na kapag nawawalan na sila ng loob at pagtiwala. At ang malinis na paraan ng inyong paninindigan, habang nagaganap ang negosasyon at ang pagtigil ng trabaho, ay maaaring magsilbing halimbawa sa ibang mga organisasyon at unyon, habang sila rin ay naninindigan para sa kanilang kapakanan. Dahil sa inyong tapang, paninindigan at malinis na pakikibaka, kami sa CHR ay nagpapasalamat sa inyo.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank the other organizations which contributed to this positive outcome, and which continue to advocate for the human rights of workers. Let me thank the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, the Urban Missionaries, the Philippine NGO-PO Network on ESC Rights, and all the other individuals and institutions which lent their support to the striking Goldilocks employees, and which exerted pressure on management to adjust its stance.
Human rights advocates often find that a formidable array of interests and resources are brought to bear in order to continue to undermine people’s rights and maintain the status quo. This is why we seek to more closely coordinate our efforts and cooperate with one another. And this is why the CHR continues to extend its support to those persons and organizations who are working to improve the conditions faced by workers and employees.
Before I proceed to discuss some of the lessons which surfaced during the strike against Goldilocks, let me first go through some of the human rights of workers which we seek to protect, which companies must be made to recognize and respect, and which must be further and more fully disseminated to workers and employees.
III. Some of the Human Rights Related to Work
A. Freedom of Association
All persons have the right to freedom of association. People have the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to strike. Therefore, companies must not discriminate against workers because of their union membership. Employers and employees must negotiate in good faith. And management must not prevent union membership, restrict participation by workers in unions, and must ensure that their actions do not undermine legitimate organizations.
Ang lahat ng tao ay may karapatan na mapayapang makipagpulong at magsama. Ang bawat tao ay may karapatang magtatag at sumali sa unyon, upang mapangalagaan ang kanilang kapakanan. Hindi maaaring baguhin ang pagtrato sa isang empleyado dahil lamang siya’y bahagi ng isang unyon. Ang kompanya at ang mga empleyado ay dapat na makipag-usap at makipag-ayos sa paraang malinis at tapat. Hindi maaaring ipagbawal o pahirapan ng kompanya ang pagsanib o pakikilahok sa unyon, at hindi ito maaaring gumawa ng aksyon na nagpapahina dito.
B. Freedom from Discrimination
All persons have the right to live free from discrimination on the basis of such things as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Companies must not engage in this type of discrimination when deciding who to recruit, how much to pay, who to train, who to promote, and so on.
C. Freedom of Opinion and Expression
All persons have the right to freedom of opinion and expression. These rights must be respected, and companies must not unfairly persecute employees on the basis of opinions they hold, or the ideas or sentiments that they express.
D. The Right to Just and Favorable Conditions of Work, and an Adequate Standard of Living
All persons have the right to enjoy just and favorable conditions of work. Employees must be paid wages which are fair, and sufficient to enable a decent living for themselves and their families. Workers have the right to adequate food, water, clothing and housing. And employees have the right to healthy and safe conditions at work, as well as adequate rest and leisure.
Ang lahat ng tao’y may karapatang magtrabaho, at ang kanilang trabaho ay dapat na makatarungan at kanais-nais. Ang binabayaran sa mga empleyado ay dapat na makatarungan din, at makakatiyak ng antas ng buhay para sa kanila at sa kanilang pamilya, na nararapat sa karangalan ng isang tao. Sila’y may karapatan sa sapat na pagkain, tubig, pananamit at paninirahan. At ang mga empleyado’y may karapatan sa sapat na pamamahinga at paglibang.
Now, these are only a number of the human rights of workers, which the government must protect and businesses must respect. These rights are not just found in local legislation, but also in international law. These rights are not mere guidelines or suggestions. Instead, these are duties which the government and companies must carry out, or else they will be in breach of their international obligations.
IV. Some of the Lessons Learned from the Strike
I am certain that many lessons were learned over the course of this strike, especially by those who were at the front lines, and who witnessed the changing developments on the ground firsthand. From my perspective, there were certain key strengths and factors which appear to have substantially contributed to the success of the endeavor.
A. Knowledge of the Law
In the documents released to the public by the striking Goldilocks employees, one of the statements made explained that even if the workers themselves are not lawyers, they studied the Labor Code and learned about their human rights. This, I believe is important, because what is clear is that the company and management have the ability to hire lawyers to represent their cause, and some of the officers of the corporation may themselves in fact be lawyers. This access to legal representation favors employers because they know what is found in the law, they know what the Labor Code says, they know their rights, and they have the ability to use the legal process to defend their rights.
Workers, on the other hand, tend to have much more limited access to lawyers and legal representation, because these services are usually quite costly. In the case of the Goldilocks employees, however, they were not content to merely accept that management would have the upper hand in this area. Instead, the employees took action. They educated themselves on the law and their rights, and this had a concrete effect on how they conducted themselves during the strike.
Since the workers had knowledge of the law, they could better ensure that their actions during the strike would not violate the Labor Code and other relevant legislation. If they had ended up violating the law, out of lack of knowledge and inadvertence, then the management would have been able to use this to claim that the workers were engaging in illegal activity. When the workers made sure that their actions were in line with the law, this helped prevent the company from using the provisions of the law against the striking employees.
Dahil inaral ng mga empleyado ang nakasaad sa batas, mas nasigurado nila na ang kanilang mga ginagawa, habang nagaganap ang pagtigil ng trabaho, ay hindi lumalabag dito. Mahalaga ito dahil kung sakaling may nagawang paglabag sa batas ang kahit isang manggagawa, siguradong gagamitin ito ng kumpanya laban sa unyon. Subalit dahil alam ng mga manggagawa kung ano ang bawal at kung ano ang hindi, hindi magamit ng kumapanya ang nilalaman ng batas laban sa kanila.
Also, since the workers knew their rights, they could more strongly and more effectively call on the company to fulfill these rights. Again, human rights are not mere guidelines or suggestions. They are obligations which must be fulfilled, and by being able to identify these obligations of management, the workers were able to use the framework of the law, and especially human rights law, to compel the company to agree to their demands.
Dahil alam ng mga empleyado kung ano ang kanilang mga karapatang pantao, nakatulong ito sa paghiling sa mga nagpapatakbo ng negosyo, na gampanan nila ang kanilang mga tungkulin sa mga manggagawa. Mahalagang alalahanin na ang mga karapatang pantao ay mga obligasyon ng dapat tuparin ng mga nangangasiwa ng kumpanya. Dahil alam ng mga empleyado kung ano ang nilalaman ng mga tungkuling ito ng kumpanya, lalong nagamit ng mga manggagawa ang batas, lalo na ang batas tungkol sa mga karapatang pantao, upang pilitin ang kumpanya na sumang-ayon sa kanilang mga hiling.
Far too often we have seen how the scales are tilted in favor of employers and against employees, in the area of legal knowledge and access to legal mechanisms. This did not happen as much in the case of the Goldilocks employees, because of their hard work and efforts, which is something that should be lauded.
B. Use of the Mainstream Media and New Media
One of the other statements to come out of the striking employees noted that the company has the resources to buy paid ads in major newspapers in order to inform the public regarding their side of the story. As a result, the workers issued appeals, calling on members of the mainstream media to also cover their stories, their allegations, and their version of what truly transpired.
The quality of writing which went into the documents issued by the striking employees was impressive. Labor disputes can be complicated subjects, and it can be difficult to explain the roots of particular disagreements, the reasons to favor one side over the other, the manner in which one party is alleged to have violated the law and human rights, and the other facts which help to explain what is truly going on. Sometimes, the justness of a particular side hinges on certain details or certain nuances, which can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But the striking workers did a very good job of explaining their side of the story, so that even if their dispute with Goldilocks involved quite a number of issues and a somewhat convoluted timetable, from a reader’s point of view, it was very possible to understand why exactly the workers felt that they had to go on strike.
And the workers did not stop at issuing these statements. They made express requests to the mainstream media to balance the paid advertising done by the management, with coverage of their concerns and experiences. And it appeared to work, given that there have been quite a number of articles in the newspapers, detailing the dispute and providing greater context by citing the statements made by the employees.
So here, the workers could have simply given up upon being confronted by the paid ads of the company, since they did not have the resources to take out an ad in the newspaper themselves. But instead of giving up, they found a way to help level the playing field, by appealing to the sense of justice and fair play of reporters and other media practitioners.
The workers did not stop there, however. Instead, they went beyond the mainstream media and took their statements and their voices into the new media, namely the internet. Through blogs, Facebook and other social media sites, the striking employees were able to take their stories and address them directly to the public at large. And by doing so, they were able to more effectively appeal to the public to take note of their plight, to support their endeavor, to disseminate information regarding the facts of the dispute, and to apply pressure on Goldilocks by boycotting the company’s products, or at least reducing consumption thereof. This use of new media also allowed striking workers to take some small comfort from the fact that out there, there were individuals who now knew about their struggle, and who wished them a successful outcome, so the use of the internet benefited the employees at the personal level as well.
The internet has always held much potential for those of us who advocate on behalf of human rights, because it offers a very inexpensive way of reaching out, not only to the rest of the country, but also to the rest of the world, almost at the speed of thought, in order to disseminate news on the true nature of human rights protection in the Philippines. Such dissemination can be even more potent, where advocates do not merely report developments using text, but accompany it with pictures and video. The strike against Goldilocks offers a concrete example of just how useful and powerful the internet can be, especially when those who avail of it possess fewer resources than those on the other side.
C. The Power of Concerted Effort
Finally, one other lesson which surfaced during the strike is the effectiveness of having the workers ally with other like-minded individuals and organizations, in order to advocate for their rights. It may very well be very difficult for a union, acting on its own, to convince management to agree to its demands. The company may simply choose to ignore the claims of workers, secure in the belief that in the end, the workers will succumb. But when the workers find allies, not only in other unions, but in organizations outside of the traditional labor movement, the number of people supporting the union can reach a critical mass of persons who can no longer be safely ignored by management. When calls for product boycotts become credible because of the number of people involved, and when the press begins to pick up on these stories, again because so many people are disseminating them and informing others regarding the situation on the ground, then the pressure applied on management might end up being enough to compel them to adjust their bargaining positions.
It almost goes without saying that a union allied with other organizations will fare much better than a union operating on its own. The strike against Goldilocks offered eloquent evidence of this, and affirmed the need for those of us who advocate on behalf of the rights of workers, to band together and combine our efforts, so that we can be more effective in bringing about substantial change.
V. Conclusion/Final Words
The positive outcome experienced by the BISIG-AGLO-BMP is an encouraging sign for the effort to protect the rights of workers in the Philippines. This hard-fought victory demonstrates that even with all the vested interests allied against the human rights effort, and even if many individuals continue to work to undermine the rights of labor, the continuing struggle does have the potential to bring about real change.
Ang tagumpay na nakamtan ng BISIG-AGLO-BMP ay isang pangyayaring nagpapasigla sa pagsisikap nating ipagtanggol at pangalagaan ang mga karapatan ng mga empleyado sa Pilipinas. Pinapakita ng tagumpay na ito na kahit na napakarami ng mga gustong humadlang sa adhikain natin, at kahit na maraming nagsisikap upang hindi magampanan ang mga karapatan ng mga empleyado, ang ginagawa nating paninindigan at pakikibaka ay maaari pa ring makaresulta sa tunay na pagbabago.
At habang patuloy kayong naninindigan, patuloy rin ang pagsuporta sa inyong pakikibaka ng Komisyon ng Karapatang Pantao. Salamat po sa inyong lahat.