Panama: BWI stands in solidarity with SUNTRACS amid banking sector’s attacks

*Statement by the BWI Presidium, 15 February 2024

The BWI Presidium, meeting in Geneva on 14-15 February 2024, expresses unwavering support and solidarity with the Single National Union of the Construction and Similar Industries of Panama (SUNTRACS) as they struggle to defend their land and jobs, as well as they freedom to exist and to operate. This struggle is against the illegal  40-year mining concession destroying jobs, communities, and the environment, and in the face of repressive union-bashing measures SUNTRACS and its leaders are facing. We fully support SUNTRACS in their struggle to uphold fundamental principles and rights, their right to operate, and to protest.

After two months of struggle, starting in 2023 and waged by SUNTRACS along with various groups in the country - including unions, students, indigenous people, peasants, teachers, health unions, professionals, and environmentalists united in “Panama Vale Más Sin Minería” in defence of national sovereignty, the environment and human life - the Law 406, which granted the Mining Contract to a foreign company, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice of Panama.

However, retaliation and repression against SUNTRACS and its leaders continue. The banking sector, in particular, with the Panamanian State-owned Bank ‘Caja de Ahorro’ at the forefront, decided to close SUNTRACS’ accounts due to the vital role the trade union played and continues to play in the struggle of the Panamanian people to defend their national resources and sovereignty from being handed over to a private foreign company. 

The closing of the bank account is extremely serious as it prevents SUNTRACS from operating freely. As such, it represents a grave attack on fundamental trade union rights such as Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining, enshrined in the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (Conventions 87 and 98), among other fundamental human rights.

The BWI stands firmly behind SUNTRACS in its ongoing struggle against the threats imposed by the banking sector to limit SUNTRACS’ right to operate, combined with life threats and judicial persecution of its leaders and activists.

We request that the banking sector cease attacking SUNTRACS’ right to operate. We stand with SUNTRACS in their struggle to defend the environment and rights of the working people in Panama against corporate greed.