ITF Responds to Panama Canal Authority: ‘Surprised and Disappointed’ by ACP’s Statement on Tugboat Captains

Panama Canal record
MV CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt breaks the record for the largest capacity ship to use the Panama Canal’s new Expanded Locks, August 22, 2017. Photo: Panama Canal Authority

Editor’s Note: The International Transport Workers’ Federation has issued the below statement in response to the Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP) earlier statement stating that Panama Canal tugboat captains broke the law when they refused to comply with mandatory Panama Canal procedures causing a minor disruption in operations on April 12, 2018. The ACP statement was first published here on gCaptain on 10 May 2018 in response to a previous article also published on gCaptain reporting that tugboat captains are facing disciplinary actions after raising safety concerns.  

At the center of the dispute is the ACP’s recent move to reduce the number of deckhands on Panama Canal tugboats from three to two while assisting vessels in the new Neopanama locks, a change that the tugboat captains regard as unsafeYou can read gCaptain’s full coverage of the dispute here.

The full response provided by the ITF is below. 

ITF response to statement by the Panama Canal Authority

15 March 2018

We at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are surprised and disappointed by the statement issued by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) in relation to the recent events in Panama. The ACP has claimed that information provided to us, and subsequently circulated, was misleading and twists reality. This allegation is offensive, not only to our affiliated unions and canal workers that are directly affected, but also to the 19.7 million transport workers that we represent.

This is not a labour dispute, as the ACP refers to in its statement, this is a fair request from transport professionals. The captains represented by UCOC must be able to ensure they can work in a safe environment for the prosperity of the Panama Canal.

The ACP conveniently omitted a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), one of the most reputable and recognised organisations responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. The report, which detailed the incident of the USCGC Tampa in the new canal locks, clearly identified safety hazards, something our affiliated union, Unión de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC), has repeatedly highlighted with the ACP.

We are in possession of correspondence showing that for more than two years, UCOC and other maritime unions warned the ACP about issues regarding training, safety and operations in the new canal locks. Most of this correspondence was ignored, and on the few occasions that it was not the ACP’s responses were at best evasive and did not genuinely address the issues raised.

We welcome the section of ACP’s statement that encourages personnel to raise issues on the canal policy in a constructive manner. For over six weeks now, the ITF and many affiliated unions have offered to facilitate the dialogue between the parties, however, in spite of what the ACP declared in its statement, the requests, which were sent to the Panama Consular representations around the world, remain unanswered.

The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association has recommended that the Government of Panama should expedite measures to facilitate dialogue between the authorities and social partners on the existing rights of representation and how they operate.

We are committed in supporting our Panama maritime affiliates and urge the ACP to engage in constructive dialogue with Panama maritime unions to demonstrate a serious consideration for safety in one of the shipping industry’s most crucial waterways. -STATEMENT ENDS

The Panama Canal Authority is the agency of the Panamanian Government reponsible for the operations of the Panama Canal. 

You can read the ACP’s previous statement issued on 10 May 2018 here: http://gcaptain.com/126659-2/.

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