ITUC OnLine – August 28, 2007(1)

Brussels, 28 August 2007: Two trade unionists have been murdered in Panama for opposing mass dismissals and the obligation to join the yellow union, SINDICOPP, controlled by construction giant Norberto Odebrecht. The ITUC, which has three affiliated organisations in Panama (Confederación de Trabajadores de la República de Panamá (CTRP), Confederación General de Trabajadores de Panamá (CGTP) and Convergencia Sindical (CS)) has firmly denounced and condemned these murders.

On 14 August, Osvaldo Lorenzo Pérez, leader of the Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Construcción y Similares, SUNTRACS, was shot dead by a worker hired by the Brazilian construction company, Norberto Odebrecht, whilst demonstrating with a group of workers for the reinstatement of some 100 unfairly dismissed workers. In March 2007, SUNTRACS had launched a major campaign denouncing the violation of health and safety standards in a bid to halt the wave of deaths and the deterioration of working condition in the construction industry.

Luigi Antonio Argüeles, another SUNTRACS trade union representative, was shot dead by a police officer on 16 August, as he headed for MAQTEC SA with a group of workers to present a formal resolution issued by the Mayor of Balbo ordering the company’s closure for failing to comply with municipal bylaws and to demand the payment of the wages owed.

In a letter to the President of Panama, the ITUC joined with its regional organisations, ORIT and CLAT, to express its vehement condemnation of these murders and called on the government of Panama to carry out a full investigation into each murder, to arrest the intellectual and material authors, try them before a competent, fair and impartial court, and sentence them in accordance with the law.

The ITUC also called on the government of Panama to ensure respect for the fundamental workers’ rights enshrined in the Republic’s Constitution, Labour Code and the ILO Conventions that have been ratified by Panama and are therefore legally binding, particularly Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise and Convention 98 on the right to organise and collective bargaining.