Saúl Méndez, Secretary General of SUNTRACS and President of the BWI Regional Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean (LACR), together with other SUNTRACS trade union leaders, met with the President of the Republic of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, and the Minister of Labor, Doris Zapata, to request the government to support the most vulnerable sectors, ensure food for the sick and workers who are in quarantine, as well as providing economic activity cessation bonuses, due to COVID-19.
At this meeting, held on March 17, the President agreed with SUNTRACS’s positions and promised to follow up on the concerns of the construction sector.
In a nationally televised press conference, Méndez reported on the main agreements made with the President and indicated, "It is not possible for the government to request a worker to go home, not to go to his workplace and not give him the conditions to avoid starvation later. The government must guarantee workers’ health, their income and food," he said.
Following up on this concern, on March 21, SUNTRACS met with a delegation from the Panamanian Chamber of Construction (CAPAC) in the Ministry of Labour of Panama to discuss preventive health measures for construction workers. An official agreement was signed between SUNTRACS, CAPAC and the Ministry of Labor, which includes the total closure of all construction projects as of March 23 due to the state of emergency faced by the country on COVID-19.
Among the agreements reached:
- Payment of partial and temporary economic resources that will contribute to sustaining the basic maintenance expenses of construction workers.
- Payment of the biweekly salary corresponding to the period of the last biweekly worked. Payable as of March 28.
- Payment of the period worked and not included in the last payroll period; payable as of April 8.
- Provide the first part of the Thirteenth Month to all construction workers. This is an additional payment delivered to each Panamanian worker in December, which is equivalent to a third of a monthly salary, according to Panamanian law; payable as of April 15.
- CAPAC will guarantee the reinstatement of every construction worker once the national government lifts the sanitary measures that restrict the mobilization and economic activities of the country.
SUNTRACS and CAPAC will meet again on April 18, 2020, with the mediation of the Ministry of Labour, to find new mechanisms that guarantee workers the financial resources to face the crisis.
As of March 23, 2020, Panama has 313 confirmed cases with COVID-19, 5 deaths, a curfew since March 17, the closure of educational centers, and a drastic measure of total quarantine to prevent the spread and contagion being discussed.
Panama has the second largest number of confirmed cases of COVID-18 in Central America-, surpassed only by Mexico, with 316 confirmed cases. Panama is followed by the Dominican Republic (258 cases), Costa Rica (158 cases), Honduras (27 cases), Guatemala (20 cases), El Salvador (3 cases) and Nicaragua (2 cases).