Today France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers received the Febe Velasquez Trade Union Rights Award for her brave and outstanding work in defence of human and trade union rights in the Philippines. The prize is awarded by Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging – the federation of Dutch trade unions.
David Edwards, Education International General Secretary, welcomed the award, stating: “France Castro is an incredible source of inspiration for all educators and unionists. Maths teacher, education union activist, human and trade union rights defender – she has dedicated her life to helping her colleagues, her community and her country. She deserves all the recognition and our full solidarity. We are proud to stand beside her.”
France Castro is the former General Secretary of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the Education International affiliate in the Philippines. Together with her union, France has been working tirelessly to promote and protect the rights of Filipino teachers, securing the first collective agreement for public school teachers in 2016. At the same time, under her leadership, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers became one of the largest unions in the Philippines.
Since 2016, France has been an elected Member of the Parliament, while remaining active in her union. In this position she has continued to fight for the rights of teachers and workers.
Hers is, however, an uphill battle. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the Philippines is among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and trade unionists. Extreme state violence and suppression of civil liberties are common. In the last year, unionised teachers have been the target of illegal profiling and vilification perpetrated by the Filipino police. Called “red tagging”, the practice is designed to tarnish a person’s reputation and to discourage teachers from unionising, demanding their rights and being critical of government policies.
Despite the threats and the intimidation, activists like France Castro and her union colleagues remain undeterred, a source of inspiration for people in the Philippines and the world over.
In April, France Castro also received the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.
Speaking about the importance of international awards for Filipino teachers and unionists, France Castro stated: “These international awards, the solidarity across borders are proof that what we are doing as a union is right. The awards raise our profile, help us gain support in Parliament and beyond, and give me and my union a measure of protection against government abuse.” She further stated that she hoped that the awards would “inspire women unionists to work hard to help their union and serve their fellow teachers”.
The Committee of Labour and Employment of the Filipino Parliament is currently working on a resolution recognising the importance of the Arthur Svensson International Prize being awarded to France Castro.
About the Febe Velasquez Trade Union Rights Award
Awarded once every two years, the FNV prize is named after Salvadoran union leader Febe Elizabeth Velásquez (1962-1989), who was murdered for her trade union activity. The prize is given to individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to defending and protecting trade union rights in countries where human and workers’ rights are lacking.
This is the third time the award goes to a union leader from the education sector. The 2001 award celebrated the achievements of Taye Woldesmiate, General Secretary of the Ethiopia Teacher Association, while the 2015 prize went to Sakine Esen Yilmaz and Mehmet Bozgeyik, Board Members of the independent teachers’ association Eğitim Sen from Turkey.