Improving the Visibility of the Philippines' Informal Workforce

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Lourdes Gula, PATAMABA President
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In this interview, Lourdes Gula, President of PATAMABA, talks about the legacy of the organization of informal workers in the Philippines that she helped found, and shares her dreams for the future.

In 1989, 29 home-based workers from 9 provinces in the Philippines formed PATAMABA. Now, 33 years later, we have a national membership of over 19,000, 98 per cent of them women. In 2003, we expanded our membership base to other sub sectors in the informal economy, including vendors, construction workers and service workers like beauticians, barbers and laundry workers.

PATAMABA supported the successful launching of HomeNet Southeast Asia in 1996 and HomeNet Philippines in May 2006. 

In 2020, we launched Purple Market PH, an online market for the products of our members. We hope it will become successful and have branches not only here in metro Manila where our office is, but also in several provinces where our members are located.

WIEGO has helped us a lot, especially at the international level with advocating for the ratification of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 177 and the transition from informality to formality [ILO Recommendation 204]. WIEGO also supports us financially and links us with other partners and donors.

For the next 25 years, PATAMABA envisions that urban and rural communities will be organized and that poor and marginalized home-based workers and other workers in the informal economy, especially women, have visibility and voice in the decision-making process, and that they are capacitated to advocate and make changes to address our specific needs through concrete projects that we can call our own.

In particular, we hope to have our own office and that our organization, at the national and local levels, will be sustainable. We don't want to be donor-driven or always depend on our donors. We also want to develop more women leaders and young advocates to continue our struggles for the benefits of workers in the informal economy.

We hope that within the next 25 years, our dream of becoming formalized will come true and that we will be visible and have voice to speak about our concerns. And that the Magna Carta of workers in the informal economy will be passed into law. In our conversations with the government last year they said that this year, 2023, this bill will be a priority, so we are hoping that it will not take another 25 years. And, hopefully, ILO Convention 177 on Home Work will be ratified by our government.

The WIEGO platform is very important for us workers in the informal economy because it articulates our call for unity and serves as the venue for the sector to be heard by the governments of Southeast Asia and other support organizations, to address our plight.

It is also a vehicle for the sector to see the importance of organizing our ranks and forging a common advocacy agenda for policy reforms, for governments to address the needs of the huge majority of our population, especially the poor, the marginalized, and those in the fringes of society, like workers in the informal economy.

Top photo: Lourdes Gula, PATAMABA President. Photo courtesy of Lourdes Gula.