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Workers Strike to Protest Proposed Changes in Labor Laws

March 11, 1986

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ About 7,000 workers marched through the capital Monday in the first day of a strike called to demand that President Eric Arturo Delvalle scrap proposed changes in the nation’s labor laws.

Jose Meneses, leader of the National Council of Organized Workers that called the protest action, said the strike would continue until the government withdraws the proposals.

Most businesses along the capital’s main Via Espana were closed and workers at the telephone and electric companies joined in the march.

Menesis declined to give any estimate of the overall number of workers participating in the strike. The union, the largest in Panama, has about 70,000 members.

The government has asked the 67-member Legislative Assembly to amend the labor laws, saying such action is necessary to boost employment and production and develop the farming and industrial sectors. But the plan also involves World Bank loans.

Meneses said the proposals ″are not going to serve to create jobs.″

He said the union had proposed an alternative national development plan suggesting ″99 ways out of the national problem, but they have not been taken into account because they clash openly with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.″

The government measures presented to the legislature are part of a package of changes needed to refinance $579 million owed to the World Bank in 1985 and 1986. Panama’s foreign debt is $3.6 million.

Most of Panama’s labor laws, which are considered among the most liberal in Central America, were adopted under the strongman rule of Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos, who perished in a plane crash in 1981.

Among the changes the government wants to make in the labor laws are the rules dealing with pay scales, collective bargaining, overtime, severance pay and causes for dismissal.

Other proposed economic changes include reduced tax benefits and tariff protections now granted to some industries and agriculture.

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