Symposium on Preventing Labor-Management Disputes Held in 2021
On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, a symposium on preventing labor-management disputes was held online under the theme "Establishing Constructive Labor-Management Relations for Socioeconomic Development and Stability of Workers' Lives". The symposium was attended by a total of 60 participants, including trade union representatives and government representatives from the Philippines, trade union representatives and employer representatives from Bangladesh, as well as speakers from the JILAF Thailand Office, and Japanese trade unionists, businesspeople, and academics and researchers.
After opening remarks by JILAF President Nagumo, the participants heard reports from both the Philippines and Bangladesh on the current state of labor-management disputes, including the labor situation, and issues that need to be addressed to prevent such disputes.
[Summary of remarks]
< National Trade Union Center of the Philippines (NTUC Phl) >
In the Philippines, unions are established on a per-company/per-business basis, and the percentage of companies with unions dropped to 6.3% in 2018. Of these, 98.1% have labor agreements, and the percentage of women among union members is 35.5% as of 2018.
Elections are held to recognize that labor unions are representative, which are called certification elections, wherein if a majority of employees vote, the union is recognized as representative and the employer cannot interfere in the process. However, in the process of recognizing a union as representative, some unfair labor cases have arisen.
If the workers request collective bargaining, the employer is required to comply. If collective bargaining comes to a deadlock and consensus cannot be reached, a labor-management dispute will arise. These can be resolved by labor-management councils or grievance bodies that are held exclusively by labor and management, but if labor-management consensus cannot be reached, the dispute proceeds to mediation at the national level. If it is still difficult, it will go to compulsory arbitration and mediation at the national level, such as by the Department of Labor and Employment or the National Labor Relations Commission.
In the 1990s, there were strikes and lockouts, but these incidents are now rarer, the situation has become more stable and amicable, and issues are often resolved between labor and management without reaching a strike.
< Bureau of Labor Relations, Department of Labor and Employment, Philippines >
The total population of the Philippines is 109 million, 69% of which, or 75 million people, are of working age (15 years and older): the so-called labor force population age. The labor force population currently either employed or seeking employment in the Philippines is 48.8 million. This corresponds to a labor force participation rate of 65%. Of the labor force, 45.1 million are employed, of which 21.1 million work in the private sector. On the other hand, there are currently 3.7 million unemployed, representing an employment rate of 92.3%, and an unemployment rate of 7.7%.
There are several processes for resolving labor-management disputes, but it is worth emphasizing that the first step is complying with labor laws and avoiding disputes entirely—prevention is better than cure. If a dispute cannot be avoided, there are three ways to resolve it: voluntary resolution by labor and management, labor-management committee, and grievance resolution.
A labor-management committee is a forum for consultation between labor and management, in which labor and management representatives hold regular meetings to discuss and resolve issues. The grievance process is an appeals process, and is a mechanism required to be included in labor agreements. It allows appeals to be filed without fear of retaliation, and the fairness and speed with which they are handled prevents minor disagreements from turning into major disputes. However, if the issue cannot be resolved at the workplace level, a third party will intervene: first through voluntary arbitration, and then through mediation and coordination.
As a preventive measure against disputes, the Department of Labor and Employment offers various programs through the Bureau of Labor Relations, including labor-management education programs and seminars for students prior to graduation.
< Bangladesh Council of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-BC) >
There are three dispute resolution mechanisms at the national level: conciliation, arbitration, and adjudication. In labor-management negotiations, the union, which has been appointed the bargaining representative, raises the dispute in writing and submits it to management. A procedure for employers to likewise raise and negotiate issues is also stipulated. If labor-management negotiations are unsuccessful, the parties concerned can request conciliation by a mediator. If conciliation is unsuccessful, the mediator will encourage the parties to refer the dispute to an arbitrator, and if consensus is reached, a request is made to the arbitrator, who will hand down an decision within 30 days. The arbitrator sends the result to the parties concerned and to the government. The arbitrator's decision is final and conclusive and is not open to appeal. Instead of opting for an arbitrator's decision, the parties may choose to initiate a strike or lockout, or seek to resolve the dispute through the labor courts.
The Labor Act, revised in 2006, provides a means for labor-management disputes to be resolved at an early stage through the intervention of "participation committees," which are labor-management mechanisms composed of equal numbers of worker and employer representatives. Worker representatives on participation committees are appointed by trade unions or, in the absence of a trade union, by workers at the place of business.
The majority of workers in Bangladesh are still outside the purview of trade unions, and their freedom of association and right to organize are restricted. All parties—government, employers, trade unions, and above all, ordinary workers—need to work together to implement the negotiated agreements together.
< Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF) >
In Bangladesh, the textile industry grew rapidly from around 1980, but both infrastructure development and the soft and hard skills of workers had not kept pace. After the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which drew the world's attention to Bangladesh, efforts to address working conditions, occupational safety and health, workplace environment, and a variety of other measures were seen as necessary and rapidly implemented, and wages rose by more than 200% over nine years.
Revisions to the Labor Act in 2006 recognized both the right of workers to join labor unions and the right of employers to join associations. In order to be registered as a trade union, a union must have at least 20% of the employed workers as members.
In the event of a very serious dispute, a strike or lockout may take place, but 51% of the members must agree and the law requires a few days' notice in advance. Also, if a strike or lockout lasts more than 30 days, the government can intervene, but in the last 20 years, a strike lasting more than 4 days has not occurred.
In 2020, there were 593 labor disputes, 264 of which occurred in the textile industry. Currently, there are 8,728 registered trade unions in Bangladesh, 191 industry-specific federations, 34 national federations, and 2,129 individual workplace participation committees. Participation committees are committees that include both management and workers to resolve disputes at each workplace. These are very helpful for management.
The Bangladesh Employers' Federation promotes better labor-management relations through bilateral and tripartite discussions, and also advises and participates in the formulation of national laws and policies. Although it provides training to member companies, it is committed to promoting better labor-management relations throughout the country and it provides support not only to member organizations, but also with labor-management relations and the interpretation of laws.
This was followed by a panel discussion and a Q&A session with participants.
① How has COVID-19 affected labor-management relations in your countries?
Economic stagnation has had a significant negative impact on workers in terms of employment and wages, with informal sector workers in particular being forced into dire circumstances. Although it also presented a hindrance for labor unions to organize, there were some cases in which labor and management tried to resolve the problem.
② In the current circumstances, what are the priorities for preventing labor-management disputes?
> The importance of discussing how to undertake economic activities while ensuring the safety of workers, in addition to discussions between labor and management, was mentioned, aside from promoting organization and understanding of labor laws.
③ Some countries in Europe and the U.S. have made COVID vaccinations mandatory. What do you think about making this mandatory?
> While we recognize the importance and necessity of vaccination, opinions were divided on making it mandatory.
④ What factors have contributed to the decrease in labor-management disputes in the Philippines since the late 1990s? What is the role of labor arbitrators?
> Processes of mediation and conciliation were introduced. In cases of problems with labor-management relations, labor arbitrators intervene to assist in the prevention and early resolution of labor-management disputes through mediation and conciliation.
⑤ It’s known that labor-management relations improved after the Rana Plaza accident, but has labor-management dialogue been effective during the COVID pandemic?
> We believe that the improvement of labor-management relations after the Rana Plaza accident has some bearing on the resolution of problems due to the COVID pandemic.
JILAF Executive Director Shiota concluded the symposium by stating that while it is best if labor-management disputes can be resolved between the parties concerned, it is even more important to prevent problems from occurring, and that the key to preventing labor-management disputes is labor-management consultation and dialogue.