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Labor Unrest and Strikes in Panama


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The stable and democratic tropical country of Panama is facing the possibility of widespread social unrest and labor strikes. Steadily rising food and housing costs are eating up any increase in salary that the average Panamanian gets. The poor are being left behind. Despite generous benefits to those purchasing new housing and government mandated discounts for retirees there are a lot of problems for the government to address.

An August 24, 2008 press release by Prensa Latina states, “Panamanian social organizations will stage on September 4 a warning strike to protest the high cost of living and demand better salaries, union leaders announced.”
“The National Economic and Social Rights Front announced that the protest is a [step] before calling an unlimited national strike [in Panama].
“The initiative is part of a strategy designed by The Coordinator of Struggle for Life and the People's Dignity to force the government into the negotiation table.”
According to the press release union leaders stated that the government refused to respond to the Union leaders’ fifteen point set of demands. The demands were said to include improving public health, public education, retiree benefits, and protection for the environment. In addition and perhaps primarily the union leaders are looking for attention to community problems such as personal crimes and robbery, an energy policy on a national level, and above all an increased minimum wage to compensate for increasing inflation in Panama.

Strikes are No Stranger to Panama

A huelga is a strike in Spanish and Panama is no stranger to huelgas or strikes.

In June 2008 a bus and partial taxi strike in Panama City made transportation difficult or impossible for those living in the suburbs to get to work. However, during the same two days one could always find a taxi in el Centro (down town).

In July 2008 truckers staged a strike on the Pan American Highway crossing between Panama and Costa Rica at Pasa Canoa. Cars were allowed through but no trucks carrying material to Costa Rica. The stated reasons were the high cost of fuel, foreign competition with Panamanian drivers and the truckers’ wish that the paperwork to promote the digitalization of cargo be fast tracked. The five day Panamanian trucker strike resulted in a government agreement to discuss all issues.

A hunger strike took place in Panama in March on the steps of Plaza Cathedral in Panama City. The indigenous hunger strikers were protesting the effects of proposed hydroelectric and mining projects on their lands.

A strike in 2008 by construction workers in Panama City left one man dead. The Panama City strike was about working conditions, especially safety, after two men were buried alive when working at the bottom of a ditch at on of the many Panama City construction sites.

Panama Doctor’s Strike

A recent doctor’s strike ended in Panama without a resolution of issues. The government portrayed the matter as the government employed physicians wanting a raise from their $2,000 a month salaries for a general practitioner. The doctor’s union portrayed the government’s plan to privatize health care as an attempt to deny affordable care to the average Panamanian.

It is a measure of the strength of Panamanian democracy that social issues such as rising cost of living are dealt with through legislation and called to attention, when needed, by strikes. This contrasts sharply with the long history and recent resolution of violence in much of Central America. Strikes in Panama are a healthy sign compared to the forty year long civil war grinding on in the jungles of Colombia.

For insights on how Panama strikes and social issues might effect your residency here or property rights please feel free to contact ABPanama. We have over twenty-three years experience handling real estate portfolios as well as experience throughout all of Panama.

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