Interview with Annette Athanasiadis Sinisterra, SUNTRACS Panama

 

Affiliated since 12 years ago to the Panamanian union, Annette is 44 years old, mother of six children, in common-law marriage. She is part of the SUNTRACS National Health and Safety Commission. She is in charge of OHS in a construction project. Annette is a member of the Communal Movement "Federico Britton" and participates in the Women's Collective "Diana Morán".

Can you locate in time what prompted you to start in the construction industry?

My approach to such an important union organization came through my sentimental partner, whom I have a family with. Since I was the leader of a community that had taken land (territory) as a result of the concerning need of housing that many families must face in our country. Given the housing deficit in Panama and the lack of will of the governments, which continue to exclude the most needy, I get involved into social activism, leading 67 families in my community to fight for land and housing, knowing the risk that this fight meant, which is not an easy matter.

The meetings between communities were promoted by the union, in order to open our eyes as we did not understand many things harmful to us. This made me get very close to daily fights called by SUNTRACS. Today I thanks all what the union has done for us, because we understand our north and the role of our organizations like Frenadeso, Conusi, FAD and other external organizations, among them, BWI, the Central American trade union platform and others.

Through your work in the industry, what has been your most rewarding union experience?

A great experience is the work I do in my job, since it requires big responsibility due I am responsible for security, so I have to ensure the life and safety of my colleagues, who I respect and have great sympathy. Currently, I am part of the SUNTRACS National Health and Safety Commission which is dedicated to train a large part of workers in order to help them to overcome their situations and encourage them to carry out this responsibility in different construction projects.

How do you think SUNTRACS can develop a gender equality policy in its ranks?

I have to point out that our organization has taken important steps in terms of women integration. About 20 years ago in the industry there wasn´t too much participation of women; moreover, the work of women was limited to cleaning with low wages without recognize social security, vacation, Christmas bonus, various bonuses, etc. Those achievements today are guaranteed in the national collective agreement and we enjoy them under the same conditions as men. There are already women who develop masonry, placement of panels of gysium, welding, engineering responsible for security, mosaic, banderilleras and others.

At the same time, there are also some of us with union positions (union representatives, commissioners, members of the companies committees and security committees). Years ago, this condition was not usual for a women worker.

How do you see the future of women within SUNTRACS for the coming years?

I want to say, without fear of being wrong, that on the oncoming years I see women participating in the management structure of the union. Until today, there´s no women on those positions because before it, women should cultivate qualities such as responsibility, honesty, transparency; principles that enhance your personality as a leader and do well to our membership.

I see most committed women in the field of safety within the industry, because our organization is doing a strong job in terms of safety with those projects where previously life was not respected, nor the safety of the workers. In fact, as a result of this, we have security regulations in place to regulate and denounce companies that fail to comply with security measures. Fighting for this regulation, our partner All Iromi Smith was killed by a policeman.

What message can you give to women workers before our IV BWI World Congress?

My message to all women in this IV Congress is: fight in your unions to create structures that place us in the industry, it doesn´t matter if those structures are commissions, secretaries, or others, because women are growing their participation in the industry, always with the idea of contribute to the union. It is necessary to be guided by the discipline that characterizes union organizations, as is the case of SUNTRACS.

I would also say: we shouldn´t faint in conquering important steps in our industry. Take advantage of all opportunities offered by the union, such as seminars, participation in commissions as well as participation in studies groups. Speaking of SUNTRACS, we have reached some agreements with universities, schools, practical institutes and other instances, which provide us training and projection in our organization, so our participation can be felt in all calls that our union movement requires.