Home>Editorial>Miscellaneous>America’s largest federation of unions honors the Philippine Labor Movement with the 2023 Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award

America’s largest federation of unions honors the Philippine Labor Movement with the 2023 Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines - TUCP

The Philippine labor movement, including the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), was honored by the largest federation of unions in the United States, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) for our struggle for the full and free exercise of the Filipino workers’ freedom of association and right to organize, especially in the light of the findings and recommendations of the International Labour Organization (ILO) High-Level Tripartite Mission (HLTM).

The 2023 Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award is given to the Philippine labor movement for its dedication and courage, and the citation reads: “Amidst the 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. In their unrelenting fight for freedoms, the Philippine labor movement is also helping to resist the rollback of democratic values being carried out by tyrannical governments around the world.”

The George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, named after the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, is annually awarded to “recognize outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions.” Previous awardees of this prestigious honor include Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, former United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, the Arab Spring Workers, and Lech Walesa, among many others, who devoted their life to addressing the workers’ plight and working to advance their rights. The Philippine trade union movement is deeply honored to join such an illustrious list as one of the recipients of the Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award which we dedicate to all Filipino workers and their families, fighting for their right to organize workers and build solidarity towards better and fairer terms of work and bringing equity and dignity to their work and lives.

Today, the Philippine labor rights situation is under the global spotlight. In January 2023, we welcomed the ILO High-Level Tripartite Mission, already the third ILO technical mission to the country over three Administrations, which reiterated concerns on unaddressed anti-union violence, continued political profiling, impunity, and the lack of substantial progress in complying with labor rights and standards.

In June 2023, during the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, the Philippines was included in the shortlist of 22 countries with ongoing cases of persistent violation of ILO Conventions on fundamental labor rights. The ILC’s Committee on Application of Standards (CAS) noted with concern the Philippine Government’s unilateral, rather than tripartite, compliance report, and the CAS requested, with the implication of a lack of social dialogue and lack of social cohesion, that the Government, through engagement with its social partners, finalize a revised freedom of association (FOA) roadmap on addressing outstanding labor rights issues and transmit a progress report to the ILC Committee of Experts by 01 September 2023.

The TUCP remains steadfast in calling on the Government, especially the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), to act with urgency and dispatch in addressing these longstanding violations, ending the violence, and promoting a race-to-the-top in terms of labor relations. We urge the DOLE to give primacy and importance to the workers’ recommendations on ways forward, primarily by providing both workers and employers a seat at the table in a proposed high-level Presidential commission that will take on these long-standing concerns relating to violations of the basic rights of workers.

We believe that this is the key to establishing the Philippines as the newest competitive investment destination in line with His Excellency President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s earnest efforts in pitching that our country is ‘open for business’ once again.

With this pro-labor pivot, we would address compliance issues to facilitate approval of trade instruments, such as the US GSP, EU GSP+, and free trade agreements (FTAs) that would provide preferential tariff-free access for Philippine exports to foreign markets, as these trade instruments are formulated to leverage and ensure greater respect for labor rights. This is especially the case for the US-Philippine special friendship and alliance forged by President Marcos and US President Joe Biden, in cognizance of the Biden Administration’s overarching vision of a worker-centered trade which places primacy on observance by governments of a firm commitment to fundamental labor rights and core labor standards, being embodied by the US- proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).

To capture the massive investment and employment potential that all these trade opportunities will usher in, the TUCP continues to closely participate in the crafting of the FOA roadmap, pushing for long-pending priority labor legislation on security of tenure and freedom of association, and campaigning for the ratification of essential ILO Conventions such as ILO C190 on violence and harassment, ILO C188 on fishing, and ILO C81 on labor inspection.

Addressing workers’ issues and passing pro-worker policies serve as an international seal of good housekeeping for sustainable businesses and locators in the Philippines to export tariff-free to foreign markets and for workers to get new, permanent, and decent jobs.

The great honor that the AFL-CIO and the American workers bestow on the Philippine labor movement – the TUCP, Federation of Free Workers (FFW), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), and BPO Industry Employee Network (BIEN) – through this year’s Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award ultimately bolsters our unwavering commitment to the noble struggle of the Filipino worker, organizer, and unionist for their rights towards justice.

The Award Citation further reads: “With the George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, the AFL-CIO recognizes the Philippine labor movement for its dedication and courage. We are committed to supporting our Filipino partners toward and beyond the day when workers and their unions in the Philippines can exercise their rights free of threats and intimidation.”

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