International unions condemn Panama Canal Authority's latest response to safety concerns
4 May 2020
Nautilus and its international partners have expressed 'deep disappointment' at the Panama Canal Authority's (ACP) recent response to concerns about unsafe working practices.
Since the beginning of this year, the Union has been working with the International Transport Workers' Federation and the US Masters, Mates & Pilots union to put pressure on the Authority after the alarm was raised by the Panamanian tug captains' union UCOC.
UCOC has highlighted incidents – some fatal – dating back to April 2016, when the expanded Canal was opened. It argues that the Authority has endangered employees by cutting crew numbers and requiring over-long working hours. These measures, it says, have led to constant fatigue and prevented crew members from taking necessary breaks to use the toilet and eat.
However, when these points were put afresh to the employer by the international union partners, the response was dismissive. Ilya R. Espino de Marotta, the Authority's deputy administrator and acting vice president for transit, said that UCOC's concerns had already been successfully addressed.
Employment at the organisation is 'coveted' thanks to its favourable working conditions, Ms Marotta insisted.
In their 28 April response, the union partners write: 'Impartial observers familiar with safe working conditions in the maritime industry do not agree that your agency has maintained and enhanced safety standards for the Canal workforce. A record of workplace injuries, deaths and negative reports from the Panamanian Ministry of Health, US National Transportation Safety Board and the International Transport Workers' Federation contradict you. Even your agency's own study, conducted by The Maritime Group, determined that additional tug captains were needed to avoid increased risk to health and safety.'
The partners also point out: 'Over a dozen tug captains have been unjustly disciplined for raising safety concerns. Work rotations and schedules remain essentially unchanged despite the intense change in workload and job complexity caused by the new Canal. Defective equipment remains in service and your agency's response to the present Covid-19 pandemic has been woefully inadequate.
'Our effort has been and will remain to bring world attention to the lamentable neglect and wholly unnecessary hazards you are subjecting your workers to on the Canal. It is only a question of time until tragedy will take place.'