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Issue # 1403      18 March 2009

Philippine trade unionist solidarity visit

Wilson Baldonaza, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) visited Australia last week as a guest speaker for the WA Maritime Union of Australia Conference (KMU is an independent labour centre in the Philippines promoting militant trade unionism for the protection and promotion of workers’ rights). Philippine cultural organisation Migrante Perth hosted Wilson at a public meeting in Claremont last Sunday at a gathering of around 40 people.

Wilson spoke on the impact of the global financial recession on the Philippines’ 36 million strong labour force and the growing number of families so poor they are going hungry, estimated at 4.3million. In 2008 there were 4.1 million unemployed and 6.6 million underemployed. Underemployment includes the increasingly casualised workforce who must face periods of unemployment as they move from one casual position to the next, a growing trend in the Philippines.

Wilson spoke of the task for trade unions in the Philippines where not only are trade union rights violated and repressed but trade unionists, organisers and their advocates are victims of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. The Philippines is the most dangerous country in Asia for trade unionists and the International Trade Union Congress reported in 2006 that it was second only to Colombia for violations against trade unionists.

As the Philippines came under scrutiny from other international trade unions the latest weapon of repression is arbitrary arrests based on fabricated crimes, with recent arrests of seventy two leaders of progressive organisations in Southern Tagalog.

Wilson answered the question of why he continued to work in such a dangerous role by saying he loved the Philippines and its people, that although he felt he lived with one foot in the grave it would not be a life wasted but one that worked towards making a difference for workers in the Philippines.

Particular mention was made of the main feature of the government’s employment plan i.e. the export of labour. Workers like those in Australia on 457 visas face a bleak future with estimates of up to 200,000 workers who will lose their jobs this year returning to a country ill prepared for their return.

While employment prospects are bleak and no wage rises are in the pipeline to help working families, the workers know that only by their own actions supported by the union movement is there any chance of making gains. There are currently five ongoing strikes in Manila, including transport strikes against oil cartel greed, demonstrations against the demolition of homes and various alliances on issues of wages.

The meeting heard that Australian trade unions can help by raising $4,000 to sponsor a union organiser for a year and by continuing to raise awareness among Australia trade unionist of the situation for workers and trade unionists in t he Philippines.

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