Cha-cha, threat to pro-labor Charter provisions — labor NGO

January 19, 2024

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), a human rights NGO that empowers workers in the formal and informal sectors, expresses its opposition to moves by Congress, the Senate and the Ferdinand Marcos Jr government to amend the 1987 Constitution.

The covert motive of Charter change or Cha-cha — removing the term limits of elected politicians — is clearly against the interests of workers and the Filipino people. At the same time, even the declared objective of Cha-cha — changing the economic provisions of the Constitution in order to further open up the economy to foreign investors – is also anti-worker and anti-people.

We fear that Cha-cha will remove not only limits to foreign ownership of land and other essential sectors of the economy. We also fear that it will remove the provisions of the 1987 Constitution that guarantee labor rights.

For many decades, the country’s strong labor movement forced the government to enshrine labor rights in the country’s Constitutions. The 1987 Constitution is no exception. It was created in the wake of the 1986 anti-dictatorship people’s uprising in which workers and their unions played an important role. The La Tondeña strike of 1975 broke the silence imposed by Martial Law. Workers and their unions contributed immensely to the protest movement that led to Edsa People Power 1986.

Partially in recognition of the labor movement’s contribution to the uprising that created it, the 1987 Constitution enshrined the following labor rights: “to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations, and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law” as well as “security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage.” It guarantees workers the right to “participate in policy and decision-making processes affecting their rights and benefits as may be provided by law.”

The 1987 Constitution also commits the Philippine State to creating and implementing “policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.” While these provisions were largely not upheld, they remain ideals contained in the country’s fundamental law.

These are the provisions that Marcos Jr’s Cha-cha, with its thrust of further opening up the country to foreign investors, currently endangers. Previous Cha-cha campaigns floated the possibility of removing these provisions. Further opening to foreign investors means more intense participation in the global race to the bottom, in which developing countries race among each other to offer labor that is cheapest, most repressed and therefore most denied of rights to big foreign employers.

The Marcos Jr regime wants to take advantage of the current weakness of the labor movement to ram through its Cha-cha and remove or reduce labor rights provisions. Despite this, such a move may spur more workers and their unions into action.

The 1987 Constitution also opened up the country to foreign investors. This opening up laid the groundwork for the neoliberal offensive against workers and their unions. Because of changes in technology and production systems, big foreign employers were able to shut down factories and transfer these to other countries when workers unionize. Labor contractualization also allowed them to carry out mass layoffs when workers try to form unions.

Further opening up the country to foreign investors, and removing labor rights provisions in the 1987 Constitution, will mean deeper suffering and greater exploitation for Filipino workers. Marcos Jr’s Cha-cha will make the country’s Constitution even worse.

What the country needs in order to create decent jobs for Filipinos and uphold labor rights is to create industries in the country. The country has been opening up to foreign investors since time immemorial, and it has not achieved any development. Countries who have attained development, and provided decent jobs to their people, are those that created industries. We should follow their lessons, not the dictates of big foreign employers.###