Organizing young workers: The journey of a young trade union's leader

Article | 21 August 2014
The journey of Bernice Johanna Coronacion from being a youth organiser in the local branch of a trade union in Quezon City, Philippines, to a representative of the workers’ group at the Committee on the Recurrent Discussion on Employment at the ILC in 2014.

When Nice was 19 years old, she didn’t want to be part of a trade union, much less be an activist. It was her mother who first convinced her to attend an orientation session at the youth section of her labour union. Food and her mother were what convinced her to return a second time. Eventually, she got exposed to the struggle of workers and this issue took on a more personal note when she realized that her father, a migrant worker based in Japan since she was young, was facing the same struggles. Nice also got exposed to the world of work by getting a job in a fast food restaurant and working in an office.

When a youth organizers’ training program was offered by the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), she immediately applied for it. Out of 100 applicants, 23 were invited to the three-days training and assignment. Ultimately, she was selected as one of four youth organisers. During this period, she provided training to young people on labour rights and leadership. Her biggest pride from this experience was to see a quiet person becoming a strong leader, speaking up and gaining confidence. Witnessing the personal development of a person and see how much they change was the most rewarding to her.

“You are a great leader if you are able to create greater leaders than you”

Eventually, Nice transitioned from youth organiser to being a member of the executive committee of Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), the newest labour confederation of which APL is part. She was the youngest member of the executive committee but the other members always showed their appreciation and support for her ideas and to the youth-wing of SENTRO. Nice says that her experience of being an organizer and a youth leader taught her that the key to success is the willingness to learn and never be afraid to ask questions.

She first travelled in 2009 to Thailand where she attended a climate change event. In connection to that, she attended many events wherein she met government ministers. At first she was very nervous but she valued the trust and leadership that her organisation gave her. Incidentally, she attended a youth activity in Manila where she met ILO Coordinator for the youth employment programme, Ruth Georget, who nominated her to attend the ILO Youth Employment Forum 2012.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Labour of the Philippines sent a letter to SENTRO inviting them nominate one representative to be part of the workers' delegation. The previous delegate from SENTRO and the Vice- Chairperson nominated Nice with the co-leaders supporting the nomination. Nice explained that her organisation believed that they should send a young person and a woman delegate and since she had previous experience at ILC in 2012 and attended the ILO Youth Employment Forum she was the perfect candidate for the position.
Indeed, she believes that investing in young people is what all organisations should do through the allocation of funding for youth programmes and their inclusion in decision-making processes. Nice says that the role of youth movements is crucial for the sustainability of labour movements. Nice is the living proof that young people can achieve great time and instigate change in their societies if they are given the space to develop their capacities as leaders.