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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Panama

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Panama, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 19 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 3,500,000
Capital: Panama

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Dismissals: 33

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Whole sectors of workers are denied the right to organise, applications for legal personality are denied and the right to organise is not recognised for public employees, bank workers, workers in the Colón Export Processing Zone, education workers, dock workers, and employees of call centres, among others. Impunity persists.


In less than two years of the Ricardo Marinelli government, Panama's working class has suffered more deaths, injuries and prison sentences than in the previous 22 years. The government insists on criminalising social protests, adopting laws such as Law 14 or the "Jailhouse Law" as it is known, aimed at sending to prison anyone who dares to demonstrate in the street in defence of their rights.

The economic and social situation has become increasingly difficult. Inflation and the cost of living have risen alarmingly. This has driven down the value of real wages and significantly reduced workers' purchasing power.

The government is opposed, however, to an across-the-board pay rise and the establishment of a minimum wage for the whole country.

Trade union rights in law

There are a number of problematic areas in the law despite basic trade union rights being recognised. Freedom of association is guaranteed in law. However, public sector workers do not have the right to form unions but only "associations", and the minimum membership requirements for creating both associations and unions are excessive. There can only be one association per institution, and only one branch per province. While trade union protection is guaranteed to union leaders, it is only extended to 11 union members. Furthermore, while both private and public sector workers may engage in collective bargaining, new enterprises are not compelled to conclude collective agreements during the first two years of operation.

The right to strike is recognised in the Constitution, but a strike must be agreed upon by an absolute majority of the workers in an enterprise. Strikes can only be organised in relation to certain specific issues, and federations, confederations and national centres may not call a strike. In the public services, the law provides for extensive minimum service and also stipulates that compulsory arbitration can be imposed. For services that are deemed essential, the government can requisition at least 50% of the employees. Finally, strikes are prohibited for employees governed by the Panama Canal Authority, in EPZs and in new enterprises.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

No protection for domestic workers: Domestic workers – the majority of whom are women, as well as an increasing number of children – have no protection at all. Nearly 100,000 people in the sector have absolutely no labour rights, they are the victims of ill-treatment and abuse at the hands of their employers and in some cases work up to 15 hours a day in sub-human conditions. Many of these workers come from remote communities, they have no social security and earn poverty wages, far below the minimum wage. Nor do they have a trade union to represent them. There is a high level of informal employment in the sector, and child labour, as well as discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender and social origin.

Workers' rights eroded: The steady erosion of workers' rights has resulted in working days that exceed the eight hour day, unpaid overtime and the lack of regulation over the contract labour used by some employers to avoid their employment responsibilities.

Persecution at the Social Security Fund: In institutions such as the Social Security Fund, a regime of terror and persecution against workers' leaders has been established. Workers' leaders Gabriel Pascual and Juan Samaniego were dismissed for opposing management's attempts to bankrupt the institution and thereby justify its privatisation.

The persecution of teachers: A campaign of persecution has been carried out in the education sector against teachers' leaders, with the dismissal of several teachers' representatives. Teachers' organisations opposed planned changes to the curriculum, calling instead for realistic solutions to the deplorable state of colleges.


Freedom of association violations: The Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development (MITRADEL) has issued judgements against workers in the case of many companies and projects by local employers and foreign investors, allowing for serious violations of collective agreements and the freedom of association, fostering yellow unions that undermine collective agreements, reduce wages and worsen working conditions, entailing greater occupational risks, resulting in a higher number of deaths and accidents at the workplace.

Labour Ministry refuses to grant legal personality: Documentation was submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development (MITRADEL) on 18 May 2009 for the formation of the Union of Stevedores, Verifiers and Operators of the Balboa and Cristóbal Ports (SITEVOP-BALCRIS), with a formal request for its registration as a legal personality. After nearly two years of foot dragging by the Ministry, it decided on 14 April 2011 to turn down the application for legal personality. A request to review the decision was submitted the same day. A final ruling on 26 April upheld the initial decision in its entirety.

Dismissed for creating a union: On 25 April 2011, 30 workers from the Panama Gaming & Services (CIRSA) de Panama S.A. employees' union presented documentation to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development (MITRADEL) with a view to officially creating the union. On 30 April three more workers joined the union. On 10 May, the Ministry rejected the application to form a union, arguing that it did not comply with article 385 of the Labour Code, concerning the statement by each of the people that expressed a wish to form the union. The 33 workers who signed the statement saying they wished to form a union were dismissed in May.

Labour Ministry fails to comply with Supreme Court ruling:

Documentation was submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development (MITRADEL) on 25 May 2010 with a view to founding the Industrial Waterways Transport and Allied Workers Union of Panama (SITTVAAP). When no reply was received from the authorities, the workers appealed to the Supreme Court of Justice for the guarantee of their constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court ruled in plenary on 26 October 2010 that the union should be certified, and issued an edict upholding that decision on 25 February 2011. By the end of the year MITRADEL had still not complied with the ruling of the Supreme Court. Over one hundred workers have been dismissed with the complicity of MITRADEL since the application for the formation of the union was submitted.

Labour Ministry ignores request for legal personality: Documentation for the formation of the Health Committees Workers' Union (STCS) was submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development (MITRADEL) on 1 August 2006. On 30 June 2008 and 28 January 2011, letters were sent to MITRADEL requesting the certification of the union on the basis of article 356 of the Labour Code. By the end of the year there was still no reply from the Ministry.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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