From the USA to the Philippines: Celebrating Women in the Building Trades

“I’ve been in the trade for a long time but I can still see how my male co-workers look at me, as if I don’t belong. I was able to connect through the internet with a group called Sisters in the Building Trades from the USA, and later on they introduced our group to the Building and Wood Workers’ International in the Philippines, in particular to one of their affiliates, the National Union of Building and Construction Workers (NUBCW). Right there and then, I knew, we find our place, our space,” said Melody Lavarez.

From the USA to Geneva to the Philippines – social media brought these women to the BWI. Three tradeswomen activists based on the West Coast of the United States connected online with a group of women welders in the Philippines. The global tradeswomen peer-to-peer collaboration started and resulted in the development of the then Pinay Skilled Welders Community. Later on, they changed their name into “Pinay Tradeswomen” to include all women working with tools.

Today the Pinay Tradeswomen more than 300 members and in June, the organisation held its first meeting in Manila and Melina Harris who leads the Sisters in the Building Trades, participated via Skype. “Our commitment is to recruit and organise tradeswomen all over the world. Connecting them with the Association of Women Workers in the Construction Industry is what we are hoping for. This is the true meaning of global sisterhood”, said Harris.

After a series of small group meetings between AWWCI-NUBCW and Pinay Tradeswomen, a general membership meeting of women workers with the theme “Women Can, Women Will,” was conducted on the 4th of October 2015. The two groups created an umbrella organisation and planned to register it to the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE). The registration will give them access to the different programmes and services of DOLE entitled for working women. A general course of action is also adopted, which include membership awareness on unionism and occupational health and safety training in the construction.

The group also decided to continue the advocacy of promoting the employment of women in the construction industry, thus networking with TESDA for skills upgrading and with the Philippine Construction Industry (PCA) or Habitat for Humanity Philippines for possible employment facilitation is necessary component of the campaign. They will also continue to recruit and organise women workers as well as train themselves as leaders to create a solid network of active sisters within the union.

“We, women, don’t have the numbers. We are a very small percentage (10 %) in the construction industry in the Philippines, said Jane Vargas of AWWCI. So the main challenge for us is how we continue mentoring amongst ourselves through this network to provide us tools to be confident and successful in a highly competitive industry. Our only instrument is our unity and strength. We will use this to more actively involve in the leadership and activities of the union.”