19 June 2019: In Geneva at the meeting of the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) of the International Labour Conference of the ILO, Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) General Secretary Ambet Yuson described the desperate situation of trade unionists in the Philippines.
Yuson spoke of a pattern of attacks on trade unionists and systematic violations of trade union and other worker rights through a combination of employer and government actions in violation of international labour standards and national law. Such violations happen in darkness as perpetrators of violence are rarely, if ever, brought to justice. Impunity amplifies both the danger to and the fear of targets and potential targets.
He stated, “It is disheartening that we are still talking about assassinations and extra-judicial killings of trade unionists in this occasion – the 100th year of the International Labour Organisation.”
Yuson spoke of 43 trade unionists and trade union rights defenders who were assassinated in the last two years under the Duterte Administration.
He declared, “This is a war on workers. They are construction workers, transport workers, vendors, farmers, informal workers, and contractual workers who are trying to make a living and a better life for themselves and their families. Enough is enough.”
Yuson placed these attacks in the l context of an explosion of extra-judicial killings of ordinary citizens. He cited the UN Commission on Human Rights’ figures of at least 27,000 people killed as part of arbitrary violence that the government considers to be warranted as part of its war on drugs.
According the Yuson, the most recent victim, Dennis Sequeña of Partido Manggagawa (the Labor Party) was assassinated when he was conducting a trade union seminar for workers in an export processing zone. They killed a labour leader, but his family also lost a husband and father.
In his call for action, Yuson contrasted the orderly discussions in the safety and comfort of a meeting room in Geneva with the brutal, appalling environment for trade unionists on the ground in the Philippines, “We need to stop the killings. We have a moral responsibility as workers, as trade unionists, as human beings to stop the rhetoric, to stop the nonsensical debate on whether these workers are a threat to national security, and to stop the ridiculous notion that these are random killings. These killings are targeted to stop workers and trade unions from doing their daily work of advocating for better working conditions, demanding decent wages, and fighting for dignity. It is in the course of their daily work that they are being killed.”