The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has been made aware of a communication sent on 30 May 2018 by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to the Union de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC) about reducing the tug’s complement to the minimum manning established by the Panama Maritime Authority.
The ACP has informed the UCOC that from 1 July 2018 there will be further reductions to the crew with the removal of the additional captain. This position is currently part of the forward tug’s crew since the opening of the new locks in 2016.
This decision follows the removal of a deckhand in April 2018, a move that, according to the UCOC, can jeopardise the safety of the tug and its crew because of the nature and risks associated in assisting with manoeuvres inside the new locks.
The ACP has claimed that the move, together with other unspecified changes, will provide the captains with an improved working schedule and potentially reduce the demand to perform overtime. The ITF has documented that overtime regularly exceeds normal working hours, with some captains forced to work more than 16 hours a day.
While the ACP acknowledges that the concerns highlighted by the UCOC, the ITF and its unions about extreme working conditions in the new locks are real, the ACP has failed to engage with the professionals represented by the UCOC. The ACP has not opened a dialogue, which would allow the UCOC’s members to provide their expert advice on how to improve the transit operations, including respect of workers’ rights.
The manner in which the ACP has delivered its decisions has not come as a surprise to the ITF, since repeated offers by the ITF to help facilitate a dialogue between the ACP and the UCOC have so far been left unanswered. The UCOC, the ITF and its affiliates remain open to dialogue with the ACP.
Therefore, the ITF strongly recommends that the ACP re-evaluates the way it conducts its industrial relations. Instead of imposing unilateral decisions, the ACP should accept the UCOC’s reasonable request for dialogue. Proper consultation and dialogue between employers and employees that respectfully takes into account each other’s roles and responsibilities should be the norm in modern, developed societies like Panama.
Furthermore, in view of the international interest in the Panama Canal
and the vital service it provides to global trade, it is logical to expect that the ACP will act responsibly and make itself available for serious and responsible dialogue with the UCOC.