The Canadian company First Quantum Minerals opened a “voluntary retirement” plan for workers at its copper mine in the Panamanian Caribbean, after the concession contract was declared “unconstitutional,” the company reported on Monday.
The approval of the mining contract by Congress on October 20 sparked protests that semi-paralyzed Panama for more than a month. The mobilizations ended last Tuesday after the Supreme Court ruling declared it “unconstitutional.”
The miner “has signed an agreement with the majority union, UTRAMIPA, to open a special voluntary retirement program for those collaborators who wish to apply. This mutual agreement includes the payment of the money legally owed to them,” said First Quantum in a statement.
“The voluntary program will not be offered to all collaborators,” clarified the miner, as “some of the jobs will still be necessary for the care and conservation (non-operational) phase of the mine.”
The company asked the Panamanian Ministry of Labor on Thursday to suspend the contracts of its 7,000 employees to stop paying salaries after suspending mine operations, but it has not received a response.
In addition, First Quantum initiated an international arbitration process to “protect its rights,” under the Free Trade Agreement between Panama and Canada. If the Central American country loses the arbitration, it risks having to pay multimillion-dollar compensations.
The largest open-pit copper mine in Central America, operational since 2019, produced about 300,000 tons of copper concentrate annually, representing 75% of Panamanian exports and 5% of the country’s GDP. In addition to its 7,000 direct workers, it had 33,000 indirect workers.
However, environmentalists, who called for protests and filed “unconstitutionality” appeals, claimed that it severely damaged the environment and that “Panama is worth more without mining.”
The company reiterated this Monday its call to “open a dialogue” with the government about the future of its workers and define a “roadmap” for the closure of the mine.
“Until there is a clearly established roadmap by the Government, it will not be possible to determine how many collaborators will eventually be able to continue working in the company in care and conservation tasks (non-operational), a key factor to avoid future environmental disasters,” expressed the company.