Executive Council Statement | Global Worker Rights

2023 George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights to Philippines Labor Movement

The Philippines is ranked among the world’s deadliest countries for worker organizers. It has become common in the Philippines for the military and the government to target unions and workers with the use of “red tagging”—the act of falsely labeling activists and organizers as insurgents and enemies of the state, which allows for the aggressive surveillance, mistreatment, torture, imprisonment and even killings of workers. Since 2016, there have been over 40 extrajudicial killings of trade unionists and dozens more are continuously harassed and criminalized for their work.

Despite changes to the government’s top leadership, the persecution against trade unionists has not stopped. In April 2023, Alex Dolorosa, whose role as a union organizer and a paralegal was funded by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), was violently murdered. Like every other extrajudicial killing of a trade unionist in the Philippines, there has been no effort by the authorities to investigate Dolorosa’s murder and his union has faced continued red-tagging since his death.

The targeting of Filipinos who bravely stand for workers’ rights is as broad as it is oppressive. Public-sector employees, in addition to their private-sector colleagues, also find themselves in the crosshairs of the government’s authoritarian treatment. Public-sector workers, ranging from teachers and education support staff to nurses and government employees, are routinely denied the benefits of union organizing, and constantly face intimidation, coercion, and even termination.

The CWA, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), among other AFL-CIO affiliates, have long-standing relationships with the Philippine labor movement, which includes Federation of Free Workers (FFW), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) and BPO Industry Employee Network (BIEN). Through these relationships, our labor movements have built solidarity aimed at improving the working conditions and livelihoods of working families in both countries. This has included, for example, organizing communication workers employed by multinational corporations and advocating for the fair recruitment of migrant workers, and protesting the incarceration of trade union members and leaders.

As the human rights conditions have deteriorated in the Philippines, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates have worked to bring attention to the persecution of our Filipino partners at the highest levels, including with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the U.S. 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.

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. In their unrelenting fight for freedoms, the Philippine labor movement is also helping to resist in the rollback of democratic values being carried out by tyrannical governments around the world.

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.