Philippine labor

PH labor movement receives human rights award for ‘dedication’ amid danger

Michelle Abad

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PH labor movement receives human rights award for ‘dedication’ amid danger

AWARDED. Filipino labor leaders receive on behalf of the Philippine labor movement the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations on December 6, 2023, in Washington D.C., USA.


The Philippine labor movement is given the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for its ‘dedication and courage’ amid dangerous conditions for trade unionists in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Several Filipino labor leaders, on behalf of the Philippine labor movement, received the prestigious George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) for its “dedication and courage” amid a hostile environment for labor unions in the Philippines.

On Wednesday, December 6, local time in Washington DC, American national trade union center AFL-CIO presented the award to leaders of Philippine trade unions, including the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro), Trade Union Congress of the Phiippines (TUCP), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), and BPO Industry Employee Network (BIEN).

“This recognition from such a storied institution as the AFL-CIO fortifies our resolve and validates our efforts in advocating for workers’ rights under challenging circumstances,” FFW said in a statement ahead of the awarding ceremony on Tuesday, December 5.

In its announcement of its conferment of the award to the Philippine labor movement in July, the AFL-CFO acknowledged how the Philippines was among the deadliest countries for workers.

AFL-CIO noted how labor leaders are red-tagged, which “allows for the aggressive surveillance, mistreatment, torture, imprisonment, and even killings of workers.”

“Amidst this dangerous reality, the Philippine labor movement continues to organize, build power and fight for the rights of workers across their country. In the face of threats to their own lives, our union brothers, sisters and siblings in the Philippines continue to garner global support for their campaign of resistance,” the AFL-CIO said.

The FFW said that the award serves not just as a recognition of its courage, but as a “beacon of solidarity, illuminating the path towards a global fraternity of labor organizations united in the pursuit of justice and equity.”

Dangerous conditions

The administration of then-president Rodrigo Duterte cracked down on dissent, which included workers and activists. Unions under Sentro had sounded the alarm over being red-tagged, or linked to the communist insurgency, by security forces.

In the 2020 International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index, the ITUC noted how Filipino union members were at risk of violence, intimidation, and murder. Some cases of murdered unionists in extrajudicial killings included Dennis Sequeña, who was shot and killed in Cavite in June 2019, and Reynaldo Malaborbor, who was also shot to death in November the same year in Laguna.

But even as the administration changed, labor leaders have continued to report union-busting and killings. Alex Dolorosa, paralegal officer and full-time officer of BIEN, was found dead with multiple stab wounds in Bacolod in April.

The AFL-CIO said in July that as human rights conditions in the Philippines deteriorated, the organization and its affiliates have worked to bring attention to the persecution of its Filipino partners to the international stage, including with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the US government.

“The Filipino government has so far ignored international calls to establish new mechanisms to address freedom of association violations and hold perpetrators to account,” the AFL-CIO said.

In May, following the first Labor Day under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the President ordered the creation of an inter-agency panel to protect workers’ right to organize.

However, in July, several labor groups continued to press the Marcos administration to better protect their freedom to associate.

“We look at this award underscoring the legitimacy of trade union organizing, not as an act of political defiance, but as an exercise of a universally recognized right,” said FFW.

Meeting with US National Security Advisor

Ahead of the awarding, on Monday, December 4, the Philippine labor leaders met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to discuss US President Joe Biden’s recent memorandum on “advancing workers’ rights globally and the importance of freedom of association and collective bargaining in promoting sustainable economic growth and strong democratic societies.”

The FFW said that the labor leaders presented their “Ask List” regarding concerns for improving labor conditions in the Philippines, which included ending trade union killings and red-tagging, as well as enforcing labor rights through the establishment of a Presidential commission for workers’ free association, as per the ILO High-Level Tripartite Mission’s recommendations.

According to a readout from the White House, Sullivan reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to support the efforts of workers in the US and abroad to form unions.

Sullivan also condemned all forms of harassment, intimidation, and violence against workers, and advocated for the exercising of their fundamental rights. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.