BTS: Hi Tony, thanks for joining us. Can you begin by telling us a little about the work you do in the Philippines?
TS: I work on a lot of contract negotiation and precarious work issues. In the Philippines, a huge part of the workforce is on short-term contracts that offer no social security or protection. Employers hire and fire the same worker again and again, or they seek employees provided by labour contractors, in order to avoid any of the responsibilities and costs that come with long-term formal employment.
BTS: Right. And how does this relate to the discussion at this year’s International Labour Conference?
TS: Well, this kind of ‘casualised’ labour is very common in global supply chains. In fact, you could even argue that it is one of their main features. Employers all along the supply chain try to absolve themselves of responsibility for their employees. And we want that to stop. That’s why ILC 2016 has been so important – because it’s the beginning of the road towards a convention that could prevent these kinds of business practices.
BTS: But businesses argue that any labour rights violations are the government’s responsibility…
TS: No, I reject this. They hire people because they need their labour. That means they should treat them well and respect their rights.
BTS: So what are the key changes you’d like to see a convention bring about regarding work in supply chains?
TS: Without doubt the first fundamental is formalisation.
BTS: And what does the labour movement need to do to achieve this?
TS: For the workers movement, we have to organise more people! But that is hard. Everywhere workers tell us, ‘Look, what is important to me is getting my salary on the 15th or the 30th of the month, and I don’t want to jeopardise that’. People are scared that if they organise they’ll be fired or not have their contracts renewed. Even if they know their rights, they are scared and so resist organising.
BTS: So there is a real lack of freedom of association in practical terms?
TS: Yes effectively there is, because to the extent that I am vulnerable because I’m a casual worker, I’m unable to join a union and am un-protected.
BTS: And this is a breach of fundamental rights?
TS: Yes, absolutely.
BTS: OK. Now, moving back to the questions of the ILC and ILO, I wonder what role you think the ILO should play in all this?
TS: It needs to protect workers! At a minimum, it should ensure that all governments implement their laws and the international conventions to protect fundamental rights.
BTS: But how can the ILO enforce enforcement, so to speak?
TS: Well that is the problem with the ILO. Unlike the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which enacts hard law, the ILO basically deploys soft law. It tries to persuade, pressure and convince. It asks states to report on their compliance and it gives recommendations. But it has no sanctioning power like in the WTO, and it needs it.