WEP wraps up RTD series on Freedom of Association
The Workers and Employees Program (WEP) of the University of the Philippines College of Law/Law Center concluded its Round Table Discussion (RTD) series on Freedom of Association (FOA) with the theme “Power of Association: Strengthening Workers’ Right to Self-Organization, Security, Safety, and Expression” last 25 March 2023.
The event was the 12th overall RTD of WEP since it was established in June 2021, and the 3rd in a series on FOA, the 1st and 2nd of which were conducted last 18 February 2023 and 4 March 2023, respectively.
WEP Program Director Professor Patricia R.P. Salvador Daway opened the RTD, remarking that the discussion aimed to present the matrix of House Bill No. (H.B.) 407, otherwise known as the proposed Anti-Union Interference Act of 2022, which has been revised to incorporate the changes suggested during the previous RTDs. She provided a brief recap of the last RTD during which the participants had the opportunity to identify necessary revisions & clarified that the last RTD put emphasis on the formulations and use of terms so that valid expressions of the right to FOA would not be prohibited. She observed that the present Guidelines on the Conduct of the DOLE, DILG, DND, DOJ, AFP and PNP Relative to the Exercise of Workers’ Rights and Activities lacks teeth in holding state agents accountable. This led to discussions on adopting the prohibited acts in the Guidelines to the proposed bill, the use of the broadest possible terminologies to cover all state agents, and the requirement for them to undergo education campaigns on labor rights. Further, Prof. Daway underscored the importance of workers’ participation in policy and decision-making processes affecting their Constitutional rights. Hence, the involvement of the academe, work-related NGOs, and representatives of workers from different unions in all WEP activities.
Prof. Marwil N. Llasos welcomed the participants to the RTD who are the representatives from the Davao Regional Medical Center Employees’ Association, Philippine Nurses Association, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Philippine Integrated Industries Labor Union- TUCP (PILLU-TUCP), Pambansang Kilusan ng Paggawa (Kilusan-TUCP), All Workers Alliance Trade Union (AWATU-TUCP), Metal Workers Alliance of the Philippines (MWAP), Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center (CBBRC), and Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).
Professor E. (Leo) Battad, Atty. Emir Mendoza, and Atty. Jasper Briones facilitated the plenary session.
Prof. Battad raised the matter of redundancy of the unfair labor practices (ULP) provisions under the Labor Code and the prohibited acts under the revised bill. Prof. Daway noted that H.B. 407 intends to provide faster relief in prosecuting the commission of prohibited acts considering the fact that the existing process for ULP complaints can take more than a decade to resolve. Further, while the prohibited acts under the bill deal more with life and liberty, the ULP deals more with economic issues. Prof. Llasos added that a single act can result in different courses of action that workers can pursue. An act can violate both ULP under the Labor Code and the prohibited acts under the bill. Mr. Arthur Juego from the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) echoed TUCP’s proposal of criminalizing violations of freedom of association and the addition of the corresponding penal provision.
Prof. Daway cautioned that the issue of whether or not the House Bill replaces the ULPs under the Labor Code would require a prolonged discussion that should be reserved for hearings on the Proposed Revised Labor Code of the UP Law Center which has been filed in Congress. Prof. Llasos suggested the inclusion of the words “without prejudice,” so that the House Bill would not be interpreted as repealing the Labor Code provisions on ULPs.
Prof. Daway pointed out that Section 5(c) on Prohibited Acts can be expanded to cover the conduct of representation proceedings or representation elections, instead of limiting the provision on certification elections. Prof. Battad also suggested that “analogous” acts be included so that any person including state agents may still be liable if they commit acts analogous to those prohibited under Sections 5 and 6.
Prof. Daway and Prof. Battad agreed that the prohibited acts are unlawful. As such, they should be considered criminal cases within the regular court’s jurisdiction, and the complainant can file a case directly with the prosecutor’s office. Prof. Daway suggested increasing the penalty for prohibited acts so that Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) can take cognizance of such cases. Prof. Llasos suggested that the penalty should be six years and one day to eight years with perpetual disqualification from holding any public office. Prof. Daway explained that the penalty may be patterned after Articles 303 and 304 of the Labor Code. The intention is to shorten the proceedings compared to the present Labor Code related to ULP acts, which would afford timely protection to the workers.
Atty. Mendoza suggested that Section 7 on Complaint Mechanism be deleted, in light of the suggestion that the filing of cases be made directly with the prosecutor’s office.
Under Section 8 on Promotion of Trade Unionism, WEP received a message from Ms. Susanita “Babes” G. Tesiorna, President of the Alliance of Workers in the Informal Economy/Sector (ALLWIES), and Council Member, National Anti-Poverty Commission, Workers in the Informal Sector Council. Ms. Tesiorna suggested that Section 8 can have two subsections, for formal and informal workers. Prof. Daway understood this suggestion to mean that informal workers should be included in the education campaigns, and that separate modules be given for formal and informal workers. She clarified that informal workers are already included and protected by the proposed bill. However, Prof. Daway and Prof. Battad suggested including the phrase “formal and informal” to describe workers, in order to stress the importance of including informal workers in such education campaigns.
In the discussion of the penalty clause, Prof. Battad suggested that any offense committed by a corporation under the proposed bill shall produce subsidiary personal liability to its corporate officers in the event that the corporation has no property to compensate for fines. Prof. Llasos recommended the inclusion of subsidiary imprisonment for failure of the erring corporate officers to pay the necessary fines. Prof. Daway asked whether the subsidiary imprisonment should likewise be applied to erring state officials with no financial resources which was answered in the affirmative. As for the offenses committed by public officers, it was put forward to include the imposition of removal from office, perpetual disqualification from holding any public office, and forfeiture of all benefits to both appointive and elective public officers. Atty. Briones suggested the automatic revocation of the corporate franchise of the offending corporation be imposed to erring corporations with manifest illegal corporate practices. He cautioned, however, that this may be too harsh for all employees since such revocation would mean the loss of their employment.
After discussion, the WEP Members and the RTD participants agreed that WEP will submit its proposed revised version of House Bill No. 407 to the principal authors and to the House of Representatives Committee on Labor and Employment, for consideration.