Although the macroeconomic figures were showing a healthy country in 2019, the slowdown has since left its mark on employment and household income which inequality made more visible in the economic sectors and geographical areas where poverty predominates. The Covid-19 pandemic rushed the downturn.
Reports from the National Institute of Statistics and Census revealed, in 2020, that the unemployment rate increased significantly compared to the last two decades and the number of unemployed people was close to 600, 000 last year, informal labour reached 52.8 [per cent] of the work force and almost a fifth of the population are in poverty.
“During the pandemic, workers were left unprotected, as we paid and borne the economic crisis, while the business sector was guaranteed a whole series of measures when they never stopped earning”, denounced Nelva Reyes, general secretary at the Autonomous General Workers’ Central.
Another labour issue in dispute is the deficit of the CSS to deal, in the near future, with sickness, old-age and death benefits for which the government tried to find a solution and convened a round table, but various syndicates described it as a space “designed to benefit” big businesses.
The National Council of Organised Workers (Conato) announced their withdrawal from participation at the round table, because “so far, the process lacks the fundamentals to be an effective space for social dialogue” and described what was happening in the forum as “fruitless discussions”.
According to Javier Stanziola from the Centre for Research in Political Studies “the reforms have helped the legal security of companies, but not enough thought was given to workers”.
As the half-century [anniversary] of this Code, promoted by the late General Omar Torrijos, approaches, workers’ gains are in danger in the face of criteria of economic elites, which are represented, among others, by what analysts consider one of their spokespersons, economist Guillermo Chapman, who thought it should be reformed. “We will not allow them to take away from us the labour conquests achieved”, Reyes said in statements to the press and explained that the Code didn’t block the economy in Panama, instead “it prevented companies to triple the profits that cause the inequality”.
Another controversial note was an editorial in La Estrella de Panamá on the world celebration that caused the reaction of Saúl Méndez, a construction union leader, who told Prensa Latina that it denotes an “ideological approach” when referring to Labour Day and not to Worker’s Day and even to “retraining in the work process”.
The text in question pointed out: “There are jobs that cause physical effort, such as [working in] construction, where a young person has an advantage over someone older.
Why then isn’t this worker encouraged to conquer other trades where physical strength is not a fundamental element, but his or her mind?”
Méndez called it a “neoliberal and hypocritical concept, because human labour is what generates the wealth in the world, which is accumulated by a few, those who do not work but have everything”. He added that such an action would be to treat the worker as any disposable commodity and tell them to “reinvent yourself”.
After describing the editorial as “petty, rude and inhumane”, the trade unionist suggested that they should instead propose ways in which the worker could retire with dignity after completing their productive life. (PL)