The global union federation’s condemnation came as the PCA sought to use the courts to close down the ITF-affiliated Unión de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC - Panamanian Tugboat Captains’ Union).
ITF president Paddy Crumlin explained: “The whole ITF stands in solidarity with, and supports, our colleagues in the UCOC against the Panama Canal Authority. The PCA is trying to shut the union down, using tortuous and opportunistic tactics – it’s currently seeking to appeal against a Labor Relations Board decision which was taken as a result of a Supreme Court decision in 2009 and, in doing so, to seek de-recognition and invalidation of the UCOC. The PCA’s petition also calls for the Supreme Court to immediately suspend, as a precautionary measure, the recognition of the union pending its final decision and to seize and freeze the union’s assets.”
ITF general secretary Steve Cotton added: “This is a classic case of union busting and a fundamental breach of the International Labour Organization (ILO) principles of freedom of association which the Panamanian government rightly adopted. The PCA is acting like a state within a state. It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that behind its legal submission is a particularly drastic attempt to avoid having to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the UCOC – with a side helping of revenge for trade unions’ rightful attempts to question the PCA’s behaviour.”
In August of this year the ITF and four Panamanian trade unions, including the UCOC, made a formal complaint to the ILO over the PCA’s behaviour (see www.itfglobal.org/en/news-events/press-releases/2014/august/campaign-for-justice-for-panama-canal-workers). As ITF seafarers’ section chair David Heindel commented: “The PCA will not escape the suspicion that this move is at least in part motivated by that complaint. It also looks like an attempt to distract attention from the delays and problems with the opening of the third set of locks in the canal and to cover up the substantial safety and operational issues arising from the waterway’s current operation.”