Aviation workers denied union rights in Panama

March 22, 2012

Aviation services workers in Panama are being denied the right to freedom of association and representation, despite the fact that a majority of them have signed up to an ITF-affiliated union.

The Panamanian labour minister has refused to recognise the Sindicato de Empleados de Líneas Aéreas de Panamá (SIELAS) as the legal representative of workers of Aircraft Service International Group Panama SA. The ministry claims that the union does not have the legal scope to represent the workers despite the union’s constitution – recognised by the ministry – which clearly stipulates that aircraft services workers may be represented. More than 50 per cent of the workers have already signed up to the union, which has followed all the appropriate legal procedures to ensure recognition, and are keen to secure a collective bargaining agreement. In the meantime, the company has responded by dismissing two of the union’s leaders.

In a letter to Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, Panama’s president, and Alma Cortez from the labour ministry dated 19 March, ITF general secretary David Cockroft and ITF Americas regional secretary Antonio Fritz reiterated the fact that the remit of the union’s constitution did indeed cover workers in airport services companies. They believed that the actions of the labour ministry and the company’s dismissal of the union members could constitute a violation of the principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining as outlined in International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions 87 and 98, both of which had been ratified by Panama.

The government, they said, should intervene to ensure compliance with the ILO conventions and to make sure that the company bargains collectively with SIELAS. They also demanded that the dismissed unionists be reinstated.

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