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Swedish companies promote decent labor conditions in Phl

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By Alithea De Jesus

For those who are not familiar with Swedish culture and work ethic, the Swedes are basically egalitarian, and when it comes to working with them, they give emphasis on balance work and recreation, compassion, inclusivity and a lot more impressive traits. These principles are already part of their DNA and interestingly, very palpable in the way they deal with people.

Apart from their quests for creativity and innovation, the Swedes give high importance to the dignity of workers and the integrity of every individual as well as the institution.

Mindful of the limited knowledge of the Filipinos about the Swedish culture, work ethics and values, the Embassy of Sweden in Manila and Swedish companies recently collaborated to understand the importance of labor rights and dialogue as crucial parts of furthering socioeconomic development in the Philippines.

In the event, At the Sustainability Talks: The Right To Decent Work forum, Atlas Copco, IKEA, Swedish Match, and Transcom presented their ongoing labor practices in the Philippines. Both the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) joined the event and underscored the importance of enhancing the skills of Filipino workers. 

From left, Kalid Hassan, Director of the International Labour Organisation Country Office for the Philippines; Carmela “Amy” Torres, Department of Labor and Employment Undersecretary, Vanessa Kristine Lapat, Customer Support Manager of Atlas Copco, Hilda Rhodora Palanca, Head of Learning and Development of Transcom’s Global English Region, and Swedish Ambassador Annika Thunborg

Sweden is a leader in corporate social responsibility and sustainable business. Swedish companies are trusted to act in a sustainable and responsible manner by working for labor rights, the environment, and anti-corruption initiatives. 

Georg Platzer, Head of IKEA Philippines which opened its largest department store in the world in Manila in December 2021, attributes IKEA’s success to the Swedish value of treating everyone with equal importance, and by treating their “co-workers” with dignity and respect. IKEA Philippines has given regular contracts and paid leaves to retail employees since the store’s opening. It also provides parental leave – four months for mothers and four weeks for fathers. Decent treatment of workers also extends to their supply chain, ensuring that factory workers have safe working conditions and fair wages. 

Platzer emphasized that the retail industry relies on their employees being “competent and confident” about the brand and products they are selling. The practice of contractualization hinders workers from developing these since retail workers are often transferred to a different store or brand before they could have specialized knowledge in their product category. 

Meanwhile, Swedish Match has a factory in Laguna Technopark, which is one of the largest factories in the world and employs more than 300 workers. The workers belong to unions and are able to negotiate for better compensation, healthcare, and insurance. Through these negotiations, the employees understand that Swedish Match provides the best benefits that the company can afford. 

Maribel Umali, Head of Human Resources Management of Swedish Match, adds that the company incorporates environmental sustainability in their factory, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, running on 100% renewable energy, and reduction of landfill wastes. 

In a second panel, guest speakers discussed the importance of productive labor, or giving workers meaningful and challenging tasks and providing them with resources to learn and develop job-related skills. 

Transcom, a business process outsourcing and customer service company which employs over 14,000 people in Metro Manila, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Davao revealed that they support the professional growth and personal development of their employees through career pathing, mentoring, and skills enhancement programs.

“We encourage learning by exploring within the organization, building careers in Transcom and thereby driving employee retention,” said Hilda Rhodora Palanca, the Head of Learning and Development of Transcom’s Global English Region. The company also champions gender equality and diversity by partnering with local government and non-government organizations for initiatives in diversity and inclusion and through on-site facilities such as a daycare for single parents and gender-neutral washrooms.

For Atlas Copco is an industrial company and a global leader in sustainable productivity solutions. It is present in 70 countries and has been operating in the Philippines since 1967. Vanessa Kristine Lapat, Atlas Copco’s Customer Support Manager, shared how they prioritized the morale and livelihoods of their employees during the pandemic. Specifically, by shifting to cloud computing early on and by avoiding company retrenchment and instead cutting back on non-compulsory allowances, allowing them to keep all workers employed. This has led them to achieve their company mission of consistently supplying innovative solutions that benefit their clients. 

Both DOLE and ILO also reinforced the value of investing in the Filipino workforce. 

Khalid Hassan, the Director of ILO’s Country Office for the Philippines, mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the underlying labor issues in the Philippines: technological and demographic challenges, unemployment, gender disparity, and climate change. 

The Philippines is also a service-oriented labor market and due to the challenges in developing and improving the manufacturing and agriculture industries, the country misses its potential to create good and productive jobs in these areas. 

According to Hassan, the climate crisis will lead to the displacement of workers and result in nearly 6 million jobs lost but will create around 24 million jobs. However, those jobs require a higher level of education and training, thus workers and employers should prepare for this through lifelong learning and skills development.

The future of work is shaped by developing work institutions and infrastructure focused on human-centered policy, decent work, and sustainability. If skills in these areas are taught to the workers, the Philippines can be developed and competitive and move forward in terms of socioeconomic development. 

DOLE Undersecretary Carmela “Amy” Torres mentioned the department’s efforts to boost youth employability through programs such as the Jobstart Life Skills and vocational training with Technical Education And Skills Development Authority. On the topic of providing allowances to disadvantaged or displaced workers, Undersecretary Torres underlined this must be supplemented with skills training and job-seeking guidance in order for the worker to have a better chance of finding employment. 

Ambassador Annika Thunborg mentioned that strong labor movements as well as collective agreements between the employers and workers, have been crucial in achieving successful socioeconomic development not only in Sweden, but in other countries in Europe and the Nordic region. 

Ambassador Annika Thunborg gives insights on the Swedish Labor Model

Before the unions in Sweden were strengthened and the labor market was regulated, there was chaos in the labor market. Employees struggled with bad employment conditions and lack of protective legislation as well as agreements about leave and salary. Strikes and unrest were common at the time.

To address these problems, the largest union for blue-collar workers Landsorganisation in Sweden and the Swedish Employers association met in a place called Saltsjöbaden outside Stockholm in 1938 and reached an agreement that was called Saltsjöbadsavtalet. 

This is a milestone agreement characterized by collective bargaining and collective central agreements between the trade unions and the employer organizations that negotiate and determine the working conditions and salaries in each sector. It is based on respect for the trade unions by the employers’ organizations and respect for the companies by the trade unions. “Collective agreements have created decent working conditions and stable labor markets without strikes and unrest which have been beneficial to employers, to employees, to companies, and to society,” said Ambassador Thunborg.  

As for Marlon Quesada, Regional Head of Learning of the Building and Wood Workers International, who has worked with various unions in Sweden and the Philippines, he shared that in discussing decent working conditions, it is very important to recognize both the laborer’s rights and the employer’s rights. He noted that through social dialogue, “unions can contribute to nation building and creating a stable society.”

Political journalist and educator, Christian Esguerra moderated the panel discussions in Sustainability Talks: The Right to Decent Work. 

In 2022, Sweden and the Philippines are commemorating 75 years of diplomatic relations, with the message of “Moving Forward Together” and a commitment to achieving sustainable development without leaving anyone behind. 

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