Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Panama

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Panama, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

A leader of the national construction workers' union, Sindicato Único Nacional de trabajadores de la Industria de la Construcción y Similares (SUNTRACS), was murdered against a background of serious and widespread labour rights violations in Panama. Public sector employees only have the right to form associations, and the right to strike is restricted.

Trade union rights in law

There are a number of concerns 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, both private and public sector workers may engage in collective bargaining, but 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. The right to strike is also weakened by binding arbitration and conciliation processes, as well as by the fact that the government can requisition at least 50% of employees in essential services, the list of which exceeds the ILO definition. Finally, strikes are prohibited for employees governed by the Panama Canal Authority, in EPZs and in new enterprises.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: General elections were held in Panama on 3 May. The country elected 1,590 representatives by popular vote, including the president and vice president of the Republic, 20 members to the Central American Parliament, 71 deputies to the National Assembly, 75 mayors, 623 local representatives and six councillors. The country began feeling the effects of the global economic crisis.

Agreements not ratified: On 2 September, the Ngöbé Büglé and Campesino region indigenous and campesino association asserted that the Panamanian government should ratify ILO Convention 169, as well as the treaties and agreements of various international organisations regarding human, civil, social, economic, cultural, environmental and political rights for indigenous and campesino communities. The government paid no heed to the recommendation and has still not ratified the convention.

Employers promote yellow unions to block collective bargaining: Companies continue to encourage the forming of yellow unions alongside existing unions with which they have already signed collective agreements, as a way of neutralising bona fide trade unions and negotiating inferior working conditions, gradually undermining and eliminating workers' rights.

Another strategy to avoid complying with collective agreements is to dismiss unionised workers and hire foreign workers under inferior terms and conditions.

Restrictions on public workers' organising rights: Violations of core labour standards include restrictions on the right to unionise, collective bargaining and the right to strike in the public sector.

Panamanian government refuses to recognise union: The government remains steadfast in its refusal to recognise the university workers' union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Universidad de Panamá (SINTUP), in breach of the National Constitution, the Labour Code and ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise.

Illegal detentions: On 16 March, the National Police arrested five members of the construction workers' union, Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Construcción y Similares (SUNTRACS), within minutes of a dispute arising at the construction site of a hydroelectric power plant, Hidroeléctrica Bajo de Mina, in Caizán. The detainees, which included SUNTRACS deputy general secretary, Jaime Caballero, were transferred to the Cerro Punta police headquarters.

Threats and harassment: In April, after a strike lasting almost five months at the cafeteria of the Social Security Fund (CSS) Metropolitan Complex, members of the restaurant, cafes and associated workers' union, Sindicato Unión de Trabajadores de Restaurantes, Refresquerías y Afines de Panamá (SUTRRAP), continued to face threats and harassment at the hands of the management and the authorities.

Proceedings initiated against strikers: In April, the leaders of the hospital workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores del Hospital Integrado San Miguel Arcángel, reported that legal and dismissal proceedings had been initiated against 34 workers following their participation in a strike.

Mass dismissals: In April, 70 workers employed by the Ports Outsourcing Service and the Panama Ports Company, a subsidiary of the multinational Hutchison Whampoa Limited, suffered persecution and dismissals after forming unions at the two companies with the backing of the national trade union centre, Central General Autónoma de Trabajadores de Panamá (CGTP).

Persecution and murders: In December, construction workers brought a case against the Panamanian state before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The workers are accusing the authorities of persecution and assassinations, as well as denying them the right to form unions. The measure is backed by the national trade union confederation, Confederación Nacional de Unidad Sindical (CONUSI), the national construction workers' union, Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Construcción y Similares (SUNTRACS), and the national front for the defence of social security, Frente Nacional en Defensa de la Seguridad Social (FRENADESSO).

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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