The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has informed the Union de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC) in late May that it is to reduce the tug’s crew to the minimum manning established by the Panama Maritime Authority. In view of this, the ITF urged the ACP to re-evaluate the way it conducts its industrial relations.
This means that, from 1 July 2018, there will be further reductions to the crew with the removal of the additional captain. This position is currently part of the forward tug’s crew since the opening of the new locks in 2016.
This decision follows the removal of a deckhand in April 2018, a move that, according to the UCOC, "can jeopardise the safety of the tug and its crew because of the nature and risks associated in assisting with manoeuvres inside the new locks", ITF informed.
According to ACP, the move, together with other unspecified changes, will provide the captains with an improved working schedule and potentially reduce the demand to perform overtime. The ITF has documented that overtime regularly exceeds normal working hours, with some captains forced to work more than 16 hours a day. However, ITF noted:
"While the ACP acknowledges that the concerns highlighted by the UCOC, the ITF and its unions about extreme working conditions in the new locks are real, the ACP has failed to engage with the professionals represented by the UCOC...Instead of imposing unilateral decisions, the ACP should accept the UCOC’s reasonable request for dialogue."
In April, the ACP imposed sanctions on tug captains who reportedly refused to perform operations in the Canal, because they had serious concerns regarding health and safety after the ACP’s decision to reduce the number of crew on the tugboats.
According to an official statement by ACP, the decision came after the tugboat captains refused to assist the transit of vessels through the neopanamax locks, which impacted the regular maritime traffic "and caused a negative economic impact for the country, as it affected the image of the Panama Canal."