Trade unions

With a constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble and ‘petition the government to redress grievances’, the Philippines has some 600 registered national trade unions, industrial federations, and plant-level unions (International Labour Organisation, 2016). Examples of these are Kilusang Mayo Uno, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines. These registered unions, however, represent less than 10 percent of the total 38.8 million workers (International Labour Organisation, 2016).

For Camilon (2018), trade unions ‘perform a critical role in the democratisation of wealth’ ina society by ‘securing good collective bargaining agreements with company owners and by shaping prolabor government policies’. However, he noted that ‘union density’ has drastically declined. Based on the data from the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, the number of wage and salary workers organised into unions dropped from 20.2 percent in 2003 to about eight percent in 2014 (Camilon, 2018).

Given the reported labor flexibilization and contractualization schemes in Philippine media firms (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 2018, cited by Cabico, 2018), the rise of clamorous media worker unions is something that can be expected. However, union organizing among media workers appears to be not as robust as it is in other industries or sectors, despite the recent layoffs in some firms like CNN Philippines and TV5 (euphemised under the label ‘right-sizing’). Since 2010, very few media union campaigns have managed to command significant attention (that is, have made it to the headlines, which is not surprising given that such reportage would be against the networks’ interests). Notable examples include 1) the 2010 struggle of ABS CBN Internal Job Market Union for security of tenure, and 2) the recent victory of Talent Association of GMA Network in its campaign for regularization (TAG, however, is not a registered labor union). In both of these, the Philippine Court of Appeals decided in favor of the workers’ case.

Union organising in media and telecommunications appears to follow the general trend of union organising across industries: a ‘steep decline’ due to the ‘continuous assault on the fundamental rights of workers, particularly to security of tenure, and the existing barriers that keep workers from fully exercising their rights to self-organisation and collective bargaining’ (Camilon, 2018). In many companies, for instance, workers who are not yet ‘regularised’ (labeled as ‘under probation’ or ‘contractual’) cannot join unions for fear of losing their already ‘uncertain’ jobs. In general, only regular employees can be bona fide union members, and this observation is true for media worker unions.