July 12, 2020

Employers and unions in Panama reach agreements amid the COVID-19 crisis

Employers and unions in Panama said Tuesday that they reached agreements in a dialogue mediated by the Government that seek to preserve jobs and social peace in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, although both parties acknowledged that they do not meet their own expectations.

There are around twenty consensual measures during two months of virtual meetings and harsh discussions that set the guidelines to address issues such as the reduction of the working day in the framework of the “new normal”, improving the system of registration of contracts suspended during the crisis, as well as biosecurity processes at work.

The business representative in the discussions, Juan Ledezma, stressed in a speech that the fact that employers and unions have been able to sit down “with different ideas to generate others is essential for the social peace that the country needs.”

He acknowledged that “some deeper agreements were reached than others” and that “there were pending tasks” that, according to the employer representative, are essential to guarantee the sustainability of companies and jobs.

“If at any time we must return to sit at the dialogue table, we are willing to do so,” said Ledezma, who recalled that the private sector generates 87% of jobs in the country and that “without sustainable companies there is no decent work” .

One of the union representatives at the dialogue table, Isabel Guzmán, told Efe that the agreements reached “have been minimal in relation to the proposals” of the unions, and that they are not sufficient to guarantee the rights of the working masses.

“At this dialogue table we proposed that a subsidy of $ 500 be provided” for workers with suspended contracts and those employed in the informal sector, “and it was not achieved because the Government says that there are no resources. However, millionaire loans have been made to support the bank, “Guzmán complained.

The secretary general of the powerful construction union Suntracs and former leftist presidential candidate, Saúl Méndez, recalled that this formation left the dialogue table “because in reality the employers and the government are trying to burden this crisis on the workers.”

“What they consider to be social peace is to continue having people in their homes with suspended contracts and without a real subsidy to help them face this difficult situation,” Méndez told Efe.

The government of President Laurentino Cortizo distributes bags of food and provides a monthly bonus of $ 80, which will rise to 100 from July, to sectors affected by the pandemic.

But the unions denounce – the same that citizens have done in peaceful protests – that the bonds reach few people and demand that the amount be 500 dollars and cover informal workers, who before the crisis represented 45% of busy in the country.

Labor Minister Doris Zapata said the agreements reached are “binding” and will be handed over to the Panamanian president.

“Installing this table led us to reach consensus for the good of the country without leaving anyone behind (…) we were the only table in the region, with the aim of proposing proposals for economic recovery after the pandemic with the technical support of the Organization Labor International, “said Zapata.

Panama’s economy will contract by at least 2% this year, and local analysts have pointed out that unemployment can climb to 20% from the 7.1% it was marking before the crisis.


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