By Corina Oliquino | FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA — Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III on July 5 disputed the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Global Rights Index 2019 which included the Philippine as among the 10 worst countries for workers.

“It is unfortunate that ITUC failed to see the consistent efforts of the government in protecting the welfare of the Filipino workers. To say that the country has drastically regressed in protecting the worker’s rights is a drastically one-sided finding,” Bello said.

The report listed the country along with Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Pakistan, Turkey and Zimbabwe, noting “workers and trade unionists in the Philippines faced violent attacks and intimidation.”

“Protests were brutally repressed by police forces in an attempt by government forces to suppress political dissent. With martial law in Mindanao extended for the third time until the end of 2019, the threat of an escalation of violence and abuses grows,” it added.

The ITUC index also cited the escalation of violence against workers in the country in 2018 following the assassinations of nine striking sugar cane workers and members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NAMASUFA) by an unknown group of men while occupying private land in Hacienda Nene to protest working and living conditions.

The murders were followed by the shooting death of Danny Boy Bautista a week or two later in October 2018, the harvester and active NAMAFUSA member was shot four times by an unidentified gunman during strike action at Sumifru, a Japanese fruit exporting company.

“Over the past year, authorities in the Philippines have repeatedly made public statements accusing NAMASUFA of being “fronts for illegal armed groups,” the report read, noting the attack came just before Duterte made a statement on October 2018 warning that further occupations of land should be dealt with harshly.

“My order to the police is to shoot them. If they resist violently, shoot them, and if they die, I do not care,” President Duterte said.

In a report by The Philippine Star, Bello noted said the cases of violence and murder, brutal repression of public protests and repressive laws among workers are “all allegations and are not officially reported as labor-related incidents” and that the Philippines was unjustly vilified in the Index.

“The (Department of Labor and Employment or DOLE) is not sleeping on its job and responsibility to protect the workers, in the same way that we are mandated to encourage businesses to investing more,” Bello said, noting the efforts of the government in advancing the rights of workers including the enforcement of labor laws and standards, particularly ensuring humane working conditions and security of tenure are upheld.

Bello also cited the passage of laws championing workers’ interests including the Occupational Safety and Health and Expanded Maternity Leave laws and DOLE’s upcoming hiring of 500 additional labor laws compliance officers to “complement the assessment of over 900,000 establishments across the country.”

“We remain committed in providing essence to our mandate despite these unwarranted accusations that undermine the genuine efforts of the administration,” he continued.

CHR pushes for urgent action
In another report by The Philippine Star, the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia is calling for urgent action on workers’ rights and grievances as “being listed as the worst country for workers for the third year in a row.”

“It is grievous that our country has drastically regressed in protecting the rights of workers.

Considering that this has been the case for two years in a row, the government is expected to have taken urgent actions on this aspect,” De Guia said.

In a separate statement, De Guia said the government and employers should ensure workers are given “just treatment and humane working conditions.”

“Regardless of work sector and industry, health and safety should be the utmost priority in every workplace. Safe working conditions, especially to hazardous jobs, should always be the standard. It is a safeguard to lessen risks to injuries or possible lives lost,” De Guia said.

“Compliance to the law doesn’t only provide a protected work atmosphere but an assurance to both employees and their families,” she added.