Are labor unions still relevant?


This seems an odd question to ask for me as president of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines. But it is a legitimate question that any labor union and union leader should seek to answer.

There are a lot of observers who believe that the powers of organized labor are waning, that unions are failing to prove that they are still relevant.

In today’s work environment there are so many important platforms for unions to champion and so many causes for them to rally workers around and yet where are the unions?

Where are the unions, for instance, in the companies that are staying away from bargaining tables, like those in the business process outsourcing industry?

Indeed, there has been a general decline of unionism in the country over the past three decades. The number of card-carrying union members would probably be just around 10 percent of the country’s workforce. The number of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) registered with the Labor department is not any more encouraging.

Ironically, labor unions are not as politically strong today as during the dictatorial regime of President Marcos, when Blas Ople was Labor minister. There are still some sectors where unionism is very strong, particularly in the banking and seafaring industries, but these are mere pockets of strength.

Like I said, unions haven’t been particularly successful at penetrating BPO companies and there’s a reason behind this other than employer interference or plain union busting.

A local BPO official once said in a news article that BPO workers do not join unions because they would get nothing from it.

Unions must give workers a reason to organize and join them. They must go beyond the generic rhetoric they offer at worker education seminars and workshops, where labor organizers tell workers that joining unions is for their own benefit. But, once they join them, they often get contrary results.

Why would workers want to join unions if these can’t solve their real problems and make their lives better?

In the case of Filipino seafarers, who comprise 30-percent of the world’s 1.5 million merchant marines, joining unions is a must. Their unions bargain with the shipowners and their agents on behalf of members. Their collective bargaining agreements conform to the standards established by the International Transport Workers’ federation (ITF) and the International Labor Organisation (ILO).

Put simply, seafarers join unions because of their proven capability to protect members.

While today’s employers have not exactly made workplaces havens for unionizing efforts, the tide of de-unionization that is sweeping the country is partly the fault of many unions as well.

Unions must have new recruitment drives to reach out to new workers, like those in the BPO sector. These recruitment drives must be tailored to meet the needs of key target groups and should involve a variety of ways including the use of new media like social networking and other online sites. Their old-fashioned recruitment strategies no longer work on younger workers, especially those in sectors where there is no trade union presence.

But above all, in order to be successful, unions must prove to workers that there are real benefits to being organized and joining unions.

It is a chicken and egg situation when you think about it really. Unions need members to mobilize more power for workers, but workers also need to see the benefits joining a union first before actually joining.

Finally, labor leaders should lead by example and not just pay lip service to workers but do nothing to help them.

Some labor leaders like to drum up support and belt out long-winded speeches honoring working men and women but are remiss in fulfilling their own duties toward their own workers and members.

A labor leader cannot be a labor violator. You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.


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  1. I ask that myself. Is labor union relevant? There is an ambivalent feeling at least in my workplace. Our labor union gave millions of dollars to a governor and a president last election cycle. Both won largely because of union money. What did we get in return? Nothing, zip, nada, walang-wala. In our last collective bargaining agreement, the management offered six percent increase over a period of three years and agreed to pay health care insurance increase. Our union bosses refused, they wanted more. So we went on strike. After five days, because our agency is an essential government institution, the management and our union leaders went back to the table. Guess what? Our union bosses agreed to the six percent pay raise over a period of three years. They caved in. I lost three days worth of pay for nothing. But our union leaders declared victory. My work environment is a stress filled one. You can lose your job easily. Any worker can be subject to an investigation any moment for failing to document a conversation with a client and although you will have a chance to defend yourself, literally policies will spring out in the investigation that you never heard or read before. Our union representative will be useless in advocating for us. We are as they say in pins and needles. So preoccupy ourselves with covering our bases and not in providing services to our clients. Mind you we pay our union enormous amount of money to defend us but we still get suspension or some fired for something that often we do not have control. Our way of avoiding getting fired is, go on stress leave, medical leave, or just quit. Certainly, there is a place for union in the workplace, but they should define who they are working for. Union bosses for the most part are seduced by the stage and power, so they promise the money they collect from us to politicians who can provide them the stage and power. This is what discourages me about union. It uses my money for their self-aggrandizement.

  2. Unionism is a cause of corruption..
    Unionism is a source of contractual concept where security tenure is sacrifice.
    In 1980″s contractual concept is limited to factory workers only.
    But today times included already the professional degree which you cannot
    find an stable jobs.
    Employers today hired there labor force from local agency to avoid their labor joining the employee’s union and to avoid payment of retirement benefit
    meaning no more protection now for employees.

  3. Labor unions in this country are just fronts for either leftist group or dynasty of scammers who are using poor workers blood and money just to enrich their own family while the poor workers are still suffering of slave wage pay and unfair treatment. A true labor union should be owned by the workers themselves and not by some scamming lawyer and his family who just pretending to represent workers welfare but in fact he and his own family are just using union money as their own ATM machine. Labor unions in the US are almost irrelevant now a days because of its ties to Mafia other big time crime syndicates. Here in the Philippines they’re still thriving union leaders robbing their members of their union dues for nothing in return, selling their votes to politicians in exchange for favors. Labor union supposed to be a force by the workers to counter gov’t and capitalist abuses against them but now it just become a simple money scam by some dirty lawyers with goons.

  4. You want to be relevant? Devote all your talents and energy to unionizing the BPO sector. They are today’s modern equivalent of the sweatshop, where exploitation is the driving force behind all those profits.

  5. Mr. Herrera since you are the President of Trade Unions of the Philippines, a labor leader and Senator, who supposedly fight and promote labor unions, you should answer your own question! Where are the labor unions that is supposed to protect and give job security to workers? Where is the mandatory law which compel enforced memberships to labor Union on automatic basis once you gain entry into the workforce. Labor unions get busted by the employer making the worker on a temporary 3month hire and then automatically terminated and rehired later. This revolving door employment is the monster that kills labor unions, which the government go along with the employer as sort of appeasement. The country must revive strong unionism to compel equal distribution of wealth to capitalist and labor. Currently, while there is economic growth, it only substantial benefits the capitalist/shareholders but does not trickle down to laborer/workers. The government must ban employer from contract employment for specific term but rather must compel employer to provide job security based on performance and termination for legal cause not based on term period. Mr. Herrera having been Senator for sometime, how did you make labor union more relevant and provide job security to encourage membership to labor unions and strengthened unionism. It seems to me that the existing Labor Laws are interpreted more to employer/capital benefits and the NLRC rulings are more pro-capital/employer, which makes weakens unionism and discourage membership to labor unions since it does not provide incentives of job security to members. What do you think Mr. Herrera?

  6. Dept. Of Labour yan ang irrelevant,hindi nag-iisip kung paano maiishare ng malalaking business ang kanilang million kita sa trabahador nila,dapat lahat ay may commission sa sobrang kita ng kompanya lalo na sa mga holidays, hindi na makaihi at makaigi sa ginagawa sa dami ng trabaho at ang makukuha lang ay minimum,patay na ang katawan bago palang mag uumpisa ang overtime,kulang pang pamasahe at miryenda!
    Ang SSS pagnagpension ka after 20 years ang halaga ng value ng makukuha mo ay kulang pang pamasahe!
    Ang salary ngayon ay 15,000 thousand after 20 years baka 100,000, thousands na!