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ITF: Panama Canal Authority On Course to Undermine Reputation of Panama’s Most Vital National Asset

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December 11, 2018

Photo courtesy Panama Canal Authority

Below is a statement provided by the International Transport Workers’ Federation in response to the Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP) alleged rebuke of an independent study commissioned by the ITF which found that fatigue of Panama Canal tugboat poses a major threat to safety in the operation of the Panama Canal’s Neopanamax locks.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is astonished and disappointed to read in the media of the Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP) aggressive and negative reaction to the launch of the independent study commissioned by the ITF that assessed the serious health and safety risks related to the fatigue of tugboat captains in the new Neopanamax locks.

The study was discussed during the Plenary Session of the International Maritime Organization’s 100th Maritime Safety Committee last week and was well received as it provides an independent expert overview of the situation in the Canal.

Over the past 18 months, the ITF has on several occasions offered to facilitate an open and transparent dialogue between the representatives of the ACP and Union de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC), the union that represent the tugboat captains in the Canal operations. The ITF has also repeatedly invited the ACP to actively participate in the study, which ACP has regretfully failed to mention in their comments to the media. The ACP has also omitted the fact that they sent a letter informing us that the experts tasked to conduct the study were forbidden to access any ACP facilities as part of their research.

The ITF notes that ACP refers to the ITF as a “foreign union” and we wish to clarify this misperception and misrepresentation: the ITF is a democratic global union federation of 670 transport workers trade unions representing over 20 million transport workers in 140 countries. UCOC is one of the sixteen ITF affiliated unions in Panama. The ITF is not a foreign union.

In fact, one of the main drivers behind this report was the protection of the safety of Panamanians working on the Canal, and reputation of the Canal itself for all Panamanians. The Canal is of major economic and symbolic value to Panama and the ITF will do whatever it can to prevent the ACP from undermining that.

It is sad that once again the ACP has chosen to spread disinformation in order to deflect from the real issues, as identified in the study, instead of expressing a willingness to find the mutually beneficial solutions that will minimise fatigue and increase safety in one of the world’s most important maritime transit routes.

The ITF calls on the ACP to cease its detrimental and damaging behaviour and enter into a serious, constructive dialogue with the professionals that work in and for the Canal so that the success of the Canal continues and the Canal remains a proud and vital asset to Panama’s economy and to the global shipping industry as a whole.

The ITF fully supports the Canal, but a successful Canal cannot be built on unsafe conditions that put human lives and the environment at risk. The ITF reiterates our strong commitment to constructive cooperation with the ACP and hope that ACP will accept our invitation to have an open, honest and transparent dialogue with UCOC.

The full report can here downloaded in English here.

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