The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) said that it has ramped up its campaign against the Panama Canal Authority over “its ongoing failure” to provide decent pay and safe working conditions for more than 9,000 affiliated maritime workers in the canal zone.
The 44-mile canal is currently undergoing a USD 5.25bn redevelopment, which will see the addition of two new locks and two new channels.
Representatives from four Panamanian unions, accompanied by ITF leadership, have met with International Labor Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder at the ITF congress in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The ITF leadership, together with the Panamanian unions, submitted an application to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) against the Government of Panama.
They allege violation of Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining by the Panama Canal Authority.
Unions allege the Panama Canal Authority has failed to adequately recognise:
• An appropriate level of respect to labour regulations;
• Decisions by the National Labour Relations Board;
• Compensatory guarantees considering the uniqueness of the Panama Canal working conditions;
• Good faith collective bargaining; and
• ILO freedom of association principles.
ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “Panama is now a major transport, logistical and financial hub yet despite several meetings the Panama Canal Authority refuses to budge.
The ITF is very concerned about the lack of proper respect and bargaining on issues surrounding health and safety provision on the job and workers being forced to undertake double shifts and 18-hour workdays.
This has an unacceptable impact on safety and there are also concerns around pay, training and freedom of association. That’s why we’ve taken the step to submit an application to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association against the Government of Panama.”
The ILO set up the CFA for the purpose of examining complaints about violations of freedom of association, whether or not the country concerned has ratified the relevant conventions.
Complaints may be brought against a member state by employers’ and workers’ organizations.
“It is important for the Panamanian workers to know that the entire ITF congress is behind them and we will fight for better rights and conditions,” ITF acting general secretary Steve Cotton said.
“Freedom of association and collective bargaining are among the founding principles of the ILO and we hope our intervention leads to an improvement in working conditions for the Panama Canal workers.”