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New social dialogue institution helps the Philippines cope with the coronavirus crisis

In 2018, labour market organisations established the first national bipartite institution in the Philippines. The “Leaders Forum” has helped the government see the country through the COVID-19 pandemic

When COVID-19 hit the Philippines in the spring of 2020, the government enacted quarantine measures that affected approx. half of the country’s population. A relief package was also introduced with funding for workers unable to work due to the restrictions.  

However, labour market organisations quickly realized that the scheme, despite the good intentions, had design flaws. Consequently, employers and employees issued a joint declaration to the government with proposals on how to improve the relief package.  

The government adopted many of the proposals. Among other things, it streamlined the distribution process and cut down on the overwhelming paperwork imposed on employers to prove that their employees were in fact entitled to support. 

No tradition for national bipartite social dialogue

The joint declaration was made at the Leaders Forum, a bipartite organ established in September 2018 by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) together with two other employers’ organisations and three of the most representative labour unions.

In the Philippines, tripartism is an integrated part of the Philippine labour market and inscribed in law, however, there is very limitedbipartite cooperation at a national level is not traditional. The lack of cooperation between the social partners have harmed their influence, explains Jose Roland Moya, Director General of ECOP: 

“We needed to build mechanisms and institutions, where employers and workers could engage in a dialogue despite our differences. This was the idea behind the establishment of the Leaders Forum.”

The Leaders Forum proved its worth during the COVID-19 crisis, but ambitions are more far-reaching. The participating organisations have agreed on a national bilateral framework agreement, stipulating regular meetings and concrete thematic lines to reach consensus on e.g. lowering living costs and improving social protection and occupational health and safety. 

Getting inspiration and support from Denmark has been instrumental

The labour market organisations in the Philippines have historically had a strained relationship with little mutual trust, explains Roland Moya. Therefore, exposure to the Danish labour market model was central to conceptualize the forum: 

“The idea of establishing a Leaders Forum was inspired by the strong collaboration between employers and employees in Denmark. We lag probably a hundred years behind when it comes to achieve the kind of collaboration you have in Denmark.  Your mutual level of confidence is absolutely commendable,” says Roland Moya. 

DI has helped ECOP establish the forum through trainings and other capacity building activities as well as financial support.