RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Unions and left-wing militants protested this Wednesday (22) in front of the Parliament of Panama, in the capital, in repudiation of electoral reform and demanded decent wages in the country, hard hit by unemployment and informality amid the crisis derived from the pandemic.
About 2,000 people, according to preliminary data from the Ombudsman’s Office, marched from the historic Porras Park to the surroundings of the Assembly of Panama (AN, Parliament), carrying banners and chanting against the Government and corruption.
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Some of those present burned animal dolls with the logos of the most representative political parties of the country while they formed a circle and chanted.
This demonstration, which passed without incidents and was observed by a strong police contingent, took place one day after the Minister of Labor, Doris Zapata, expressed that there is not a favorable environment, given the pandemic crisis, for an increase in the minimum wage, which must be reviewed this 2021 by the current law.
“The minister speaks on behalf of her bosses, the employers. Why doesn’t she say that they can’t raise the prices of food, electricity, the cost construction materials? She won’t open her mouth,” Saúl Méndez, secretary of the powerful National Union of Construction and Similar Workers (Suntracs), told efe agency.
The crisis caused by the pandemic catapulted unemployment from 7.1% to 18.5% as of September 2020 and informality to more than 52%. Local analysts estimate that unemployment has already exceeded 20% and have suggested that an increase in the minimum wage will serve to boost consumption and thus the economy, which collapsed by 17.9% last year.
In Panama, there are about thirty different minimum wages. The last revision occurred in December 2019, when President Laurentino Cortizo decreed an average hike of 3.3%. In 2017, the then ruler Juan Carlos Varela approved a 6.5% hike in large companies and 4.5% in small businesses.
Among those present at Wednesday’s demonstration was the National Union of Educators of Panama (UNEP) protesting “the abuse of the Assembly (…) who intend to include 300 articles to an electoral reform” already agreed upon in a national commission for months, its coordinator, professor Edy Pinto, explained to Efe.
The Panamanian Parliament tried to apply some modifications to an electoral reform project, which provoked the withdrawal of the Electoral Tribunal, a wave of criticism, and one of the most crowded rallies of the last years in the country to demand the revocation of the measure.
This controversy is being discussed this week in a “technical table” called by the Parliament to understand the magistrates of the governing body of the elections.
Also present were representatives of the feminist movement, who wanted to raise their voices for the women domestic workers since, according to them, they are invisible before the State since they do not receive any economic aid.
While union representatives were grouped in “cabildos” to show their main complaints, some of their delegates went to the Parliament to deliver a document with a series of points to show that “we do not want more robberies or robberies, nor that the people continue to be exploited. We demand work and a decent salary!