Panama Will Import 4,000 Construction Workers From Honduras

Tuesday, July 10 2012 @ 04:22 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

"Panamanians interested in workers from San Pedro Sula," said the headline on the website of the La Prensa newspaper in Honduras yesterday, and a story saying Panama will import 4,000 laborers from this Central American country to work in the construction sector, especially in the expansion of the Panama Canal. The newspaper - quoting Honduran Labor Minister Felícito Avila - said this job opportunity would be offered from Panama to Honduras and would benefit mainly those from San Pedro Sula. The workers from San Pedro Sula would be hired as the Masters of Projects, carpenters, and plumbers. "Honduras has a high experience with graduates from the Infop (National Vocational Training Institute)" for these position, said Avila in the Honduran newspaper.

An agreement between Avila and Panama's Labor Minister, Alma Cortes, would be the legal framework for the import of 4,000 workers from Honduras. According to the Honduran newspaper La Prensa, that agreement would be signed next August, at a meeting of the Labor Ministers from Central America and the Dominican Republic. Avila has confirmed his participation at the meeting to be held on 7 and 8 August. "We could sign an agreement to establish the parameters of how and under what conditions the Hondurans could leave to that neighboring country," said the Honduran minister.

SUNTRACS On Alert: The Union of Construction Workers and Allied (SUNTRACS) rejected the measure. Genaro Lopez, leader of SUNTRACS said Panama has enough manpower to meet demand in the construction sector. He even said recently the consortium Unidos Por El Canal which is building the Panama Canal expansion project laid off about 300 workers. For the leader, the measure seeks to weaken the union movement in Panama and would present a problem for the country. Foreign workers are not entitled to protest in the case of labor violations, said Lopez. Furthermore, the Government would be importing workers for specific projects and when they conclude, it is likely that these workers will not wish to return to their country, which would generate other problems in Panama, he said.

MITRADEL Statement: The Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development (Mitradel), in a statement, reported they have not received the request from the Honduran authorities for a meeting outside the central theme, which will be on child labor. "But regularly in similar activities the ministers have exchanged ideas, and on this occasion that may be the case," the statement said. The agency clarified that in Panama there are no projects which have been stopped or delayed due to manpower shortages, and "we in the universities, technical institutes and the National Institute for Human Development (INADEH) are training hundreds of Panamanians to form part of the required labor pool."

The information that appeared in La Prensa de Honduras emphasized that Panama is asking for the Honduran labor. "Panama is requiring Honduran labor, and San Pedro Sula is a key city to send qualified personnel to work in the construction of shopping centers and the modernization of road infrastructure in this country," said the newspaper, quoting this time Carlos Montes, Honduran Vice Minister of Labour and Social Welfare. "If the agreement is signed, people who are unemployed will join the productive sector abroad who will be paid in dollars. This will help to narrow the gap of unemployed in San Pedro," expanded Montes. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The importation of labor in this manner will be a controversial step for the Panamanian government to take. They find themselves perched upon the dual horns of a dilemma. They need the additional manpower to keep building stuff as the economy continues to grow, and it's a simple matter of fact that growth has outpaced demographics. There are simply more jobs than there are people available to do them. The Minister of Labor's statement directly conflicts with statements recently made by the Minister of Public Works, who said the government has more infrastructure projects they would like to build, but the construction companies either can't or won't bid on them, because there are no construction workers available to build them. So while it might be a true statement when they say no projects have been cancelled or delayed due to a lack of manpower, it's also true that there would be more projects being built if there were more people available. Once again, politicians splitting hairs. The recent "melting pot" event added about 5,000 additional employees to the temporary labor pool, but very few of them were probably experienced, trained, and capable construction workers. And (as usual) the SUNTRACS guys are looking out for their own concerns. They will probably give these guys a two year visa and work permit, and see how it turns out.

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