UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 000436
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DOL/ILAB FOR LAURA BUFFO
PASS USTR FOR WILLIAM CLATANOFF
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM EAID ELAB ETRD PGOV PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: PANAMA LAUNCHES DOL-FUNDED LABOR TRADE CAPACITY
Â¶1. (U) With a Panama-US FTA Agreement still in limbo after
the 8th negotiating round, on February 17 Panama's Labor
Ministry launched Panama's participation in the DOL-funded
labor trade capacity building project called "Cumple y Gana"
(Comply and Win). The four-year project includes the CAFTA
countries and the Dominican Republic and costs $8.75 million.
The event highlighted the Labor Ministry's organization,
energy, and initiative. Ambassador Watt's participation
raised the event's profile, bringing attention to the
benefits for smaller businesses of more transparent labor
compliance. End Summary.
Â¶2. (U) DOL-funded Cumple y Gana, which began in the CAFTA
countries in 2004, provides technical assistance to countries
in the region negotiating free trade agreements with the U.S.
The project includes:
- a website that answers the most frequently answered labor
questions by employees and businesses in the project
- increased standardization and computerization of labor
inspection systems; and
- improved use of mediation and conciliation.
LABOR MINISTRY APPROACH
Â¶3. (U) The Labor Ministry helped project grantee Foundation
for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM) organize an energetic
launch event that included over 75 participants from
government, labor, and the business community. The Labor
Ministry also included a representative from the National
Council for Organized Workers (CONATO), a labor union
umbrella organization, and the National Council for Private
Enterprise (CONeP), an umbrella business organization, at the
head table. A strong media contingent covered the event.
Â¶4. (U) Labor Minister Reynaldo Rivera spoke passionately at
the event. He argued that the modern tri-partite approach to
dispute resolution is the key to social peace within a
democratic system. Minister Rivera characterized the new
methods promoted by the project as the "future," noting that
such methods help the Labor Ministry to serve more as an
educator than a policeman.
Â¶5. (U) Minister Rivera was quick to point out his historic
interest in modern labor compliance tools. During his
speech, he recalled his trip to the United States in the
1990s in which he observed the DOL inspection system. (Note:
Minister Rivera has mentioned with enthusiasm his visit to
the U.S. to PolOff and to DOL representatives on numerous
occasions, usually emphasizing his time with U.S. mediators
and his interest in mediation.)
Â¶6. (U) Acting DOL Director of Foreign Relations Gary
Russell, who also spoke during the event, was impressed by
the level of activity in the Labor Ministry and its current
initiative in renovating its inspections division.
Similarly, FUNPADEM coordinators told PolOff after their
visit to the Labor Ministry in October 2004 that Panama's
pre-project computerized labor inspection system was the most
advanced they had seen in the project countries.
AMBASSADOR RAISES PROJECT PROFILE
Â¶7. (U) Ambassador Watt's participation raised press
interest in the event. Despite an impassioned speech from
Labor Minister Rivera that echoed many of her comments, most
press coverage focused on Ambassador Watt. She explained
that Cumple y Gana could help business and labor to work
together to attract investment, create employment, and
protect workers' rights. Ambassador Watt noted that the
project approach helps increase understanding of labor laws
and the transparency of the inspection process, benefits that
could help smaller businesses stimulate employment. The
Ambassador also emphasized the link between increased
employment and a strong democracy.
Â¶8. (U) The Labor Ministry's enthusiastic, tripartite
approach to the launch and its enthusiasm for modern
inspection and mediation tools bode well for project success.
Ambassador Watt's participation helped raise the event's
profile, placing respect for labor rights squarely with
efforts by the mainstream business community to increase
government transparency and strengthen democratic