The Impact of COVID-19 on Filipino Workers

Update from Monitoring Partner Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR)

The Philippines is currently experiencing another surge in the number of COVID-19 cases since March. The total number of cases is nearing its 1 million mark with more than 200,000 active cases. The number of new cases reported each day is at least 10,000.

The pandemic has greatly affected the health, jobs and rights of the people. The poor pandemic response of the Duterte government is seen to have aggravated the suffering of the Filipinos instead of mitigating its social and economic impacts. The labour force survey of the government as of February 2021 indicates that the unemployment rate is at 8.8% which is equivalent to 4.2 million people. The highest unemployment rate was registered at 17.6% in April 2020, during the first implementation of Enhanced Community Quarantine.

Aside from the massive layoff of workers from companies that closed down, thousands are put under ‘floating status’. Workers are under the “no work-no pay” arrangement during the pandemic. They are technically not included in the number of unemployed, as they wait for the companies to “recover” to return to work. The Department of Labor and Employment allowed extension of the floating status to 1 year from the previously allowed 6 months.

Impact to Rights and Democratic Space

The pandemic response of the Duterte government is highly militarist in nature. It focused on deploying more state forces in the streets to implement the strict quarantine protocols to contain the spread of the virus. Attacks against unionists, activists and critics have escalated during the pandemic. Several activists, including unionists have been victims of illegal arrest and trumped-up charges. State forces use search warrants to conduct raids and plant firearms and explosives that serve as evidence to arrest them.

One of those arrested in this way is Arnedo Lagunias, a former union officer of Honda Philippines. CTUHR has monitored at least 13 workers and unionists arrested since 2020. Extrajudicial killings continue even amid the pandemic, both under Duterte’s war on drugs and its war against critics. CTUHR has recorded at least four unionists killed during the community quarantine. This includes Emmanuel Asuncion who was killed last March 7 in Cavite as police allegedly served him a search warrant. He was just one of nine activists killed on that day, dubbed as Bloody Sunday. Another unionist was killed on March 28, just a few weeks after Asuncion’s death. Dandy Miguel, President of the workers’ union in Fuji Electric Phils. was shot dead by unknown assailants as he was on his way home from work.

Impact to Our Work

The pandemic has greatly affected our work as a labour rights institution. Due to restrictions in mobility and the threat of contracting the virus, it has become very hard for us to do our main task – to monitor the situation of workers’ rights. Instead of field visits to conduct interviews and check on our partner unions and other workers - we had to do virtual consultations. This is very challenging as the internet connection here is really poor and workers seldom have access and capacity for virtual meetings and other activities. We also had to rely on mainstream news, government data and reports from grassroots organizations in pursuing our work.

The militarist lockdown and the intensified attacks against rights defenders has hindered our work. As one of the petitioners against the anti-democratic Anti-Terrorism Law, CTUHR is under the scrutiny of the authorities, which puts us at risk of further attacks.

The two victims mentioned above, Manny Asuncion and Dandy Miguel, were allies of ours in Southern Tagalog to conduct monitoring and research. Some of the workers/trade unionists arrested were CTUHR’s partners and sources of information on the ground. For example Pol Viuya, Chairperson of Workers Alliance in Region 3. He was arrested last March 30 in Tarlac City.