We at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are surprised and disappointed by the statement issued by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) in relation to the recent events in Panama. The ACP has claimed that information provided to us, and subsequently circulated, was misleading and twists reality. This allegation is offensive, not only to our affiliated unions and canal workers that are directly affected, but also to the 19.7 million transport workers that we represent.
This is not a labour dispute, as the ACP refers to in its statement, this is a fair request from transport professionals. The captains represented by UCOC must be able to ensure they can work in a safe environment for the prosperity of the Panama Canal.
The ACP conveniently omitted a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), one of the most reputable and recognised organisations responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. The report, which detailed the incident of the USCGC Tampa in the new canal locks, clearly identified safety hazards, something our affiliated union, Unión de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC), has repeatedly highlighted with the ACP.
We are in possession of correspondence showing that for more than two years, UCOC and other maritime unions warned the APC about issues regarding training, safety and operations in the new canal locks. Most of this correspondence was ignored, and on the few occasions that it was not the ACP’s responses were at best evasive and did not genuinely address the issues raised.
We welcome the section of ACP’s statement that encourages personnel to raise issues on the canal policy in a constructive manner. For over six weeks now, the ITF and many affiliated unions have offered to facilitate the dialogue between the parties, however, in spite of what the APC declared in its statement, the requests, which were sent to the Panama Consular representations around the world, remain unanswered.
The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association has recommended that the Government of Panama should expedite measures to facilitate dialogue between the authorities and social partners on the existing rights of representation and how they operate.
We are committed in supporting our Panama maritime affiliates and urge the ACP to engage in constructive dialogue with Panama maritime unions to demonstrate a serious consideration for safety in one of the shipping industry’s most crucial waterways.