Philippines: Top human rights award goes to education leader

The former Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines has been named as recipient of a top international prize for trade union rights.

 

France Castro, a top trade union activist in the Philippines, has been named as the recipient of  the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2019. Castro, who is the former Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), is renowned in the trade union world for her tireless defence of human rights in the Philippines. Indeed, her advocacy for human rights has also led to harassment of her as a consequence.

The prize was announced today by Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Context

The Philippines is among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and trade unionists, according to the ITUC. Basic workers’ rights are not respected, including the right to organise and collectively bargain and to be protected against child labour, discrimination and forced labour. Against a background of state violence and suppression of civil liberties, workers and trade unionists face threats and intimidation from the regime when defending their rights.

Castro and some of her colleagues at the ACT are among active trade unionists, in particular journalists and teachers, who have been targeted, harassed and prosecuted by the Duterte regime. Some activists have been killed or imprisoned and death threats are common. During a recent keynote speech at the Executive Board of Education International (EI), one of Castro’s colleagues highlighted recent illegal profiling and vilification of unionised teachers by the police. This has resulted in significant disruption of union activities and the invasion of teachers’ privacy.

Castro’s example

Castro has become a symbol for democracy and workers’ rights in her country. A qualified teacher, she established an education union in Quezon City, just north-east of the capital, Manila. Later, she was elected Secretary General of the ACT, which is a member of EI, and focused on uniting teachers within one trade union.

Under her leadership, the ACT has quickly grown to become one of the largest trade unions in the Philippines. In 2016, it negotiated the first collective agreement for public school teachers, which recognises the right to strike.

As an elected Member of the Philippine House of Representatives, Castro has fought against neoliberal reforms in education and filed bills for the rights and welfare of education workers. She has also fought against lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, the mandatory Reserve Officer Training Corps in senior high school and targeting of minors in the regime’s anti-drug war.

She and her union have long been engaged in the defence of indigenous people’s right to education, activism that led to her being attacked by paramilitary forces and detained during a solidarity mission in Lumad schools in Talaingod last November.


The Arthur Svensson prize is granted to a person or an organisation that has worked predominantly to promote trade union rights and/or to strengthen trade union organising around the world. The prize is an international award established by the Norwegian trade union, Industri Energi. It is awarded annually by the Committee for the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.
 

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