The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2019 is awarded to the Philippine trade union activist France Castro. She is awarded the prize for her struggle throughout many years to organize teachers and to fight for basic workers’ rights in the Philippines.
According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) the Philippines is among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and trade unionists. According to ITUC the country does not respect the basic workers’ rights: The right to organize and collectively bargain, and the right to protection against child labour, discrimination and forced labour. In a context of extreme state violence and suppression of civil liberties, workers and trade unionists face threats and intimidation from both the regime and companies, and have to fight for their rights.
Despite threats and intimidation there are brave people who fight for democracy and human rights. Some active trade unionists, in particular journalists and teachers, have been targeted by the regime and those around them. Some have been killed or imprisoned. Death threats are common. The last months police officers have organized illegal profiling and vilification of unionized teachers, a massive union-busting and invasion of teachers’ privacy.
France Castro is one of the brave persons who stands up for democracy and workers’ rights. She worked as a teacher and established a union in Quezon City. After a few years she was elected Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), and took the lead assembling teachers in one trade union.
ACT under the leadership of France Castro has in a short time grown to become one of the largest trade unions in the Philippines. In 2016 the union negotiated the first collective agreement for public school teachers, an agreement which recognizes the right to strike.
France Castro took the struggle for important workers’ issues into the Parliament when she was elected MP in 2016 as candidate from her union. She pushed for the expansion of maternity leave for all women to 105 days, a bill that recently passed the Parliament, and she has fought for higher minimum wages. As representative for teachers she has fought against neoliberal reforms in education and filed bills for the rights and welfare of education workers. Besides these issues she has amongst others 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» which has resulted in extrajudicial killings and illegal detention and arrests of thousands of young people. She and her union has for years been engaged in indigineous people’s right to education, an engagement that led to her being attacked by paramilitary forces and detained during a solidarity mission in Lumad schools in Talaingod last November..Both inside and outside the Parliament France Castro has been fighting for the poor, the workers and the human rights against powerful opponents.
The trade unions are under fierce pressure all over the world. When inequalities and the pressure on democratic rights increase, it is the workers and the trade unions who often are the first victims, as they are the most important defenders of democracy and just distribution. In this fight we need tough and brave leaders like France Castro.
The award ceremony will be in Oslo 12th of June.