Panama copper miners take to the streets in backlash to shutdown

30th November 2023 By: Bloomberg

Staff and contractors at First Quantum Minerals's Panamanian copper mine staged demonstrations across the country Wednesday, demanding the government protect their jobs or ensure they receive compensation if they are laid off.

Workers marched through city streets, blocking roads and waving flags, a day after the Supreme Court ruled the law governing a new contract for the Cobre Panama mine was unconstitutional. Some carried signs that read “You also use 100% Panamanian copper.”

The backlash from members of the mine’s 7 000-strong workforce — as well as suppliers and contractors that account for a total of about 40 000 jobs — comes as anti-mining protesters celebrate President Laurentino Cortizo’s pledge to respect the court’s ruling and begin the process of closing the mine.

While environmentalists and some other non-mining labor unions have held protests since October 20 when Congress passed the new contract, workers are fighting to keep their jobs — or at least receive proper compensation.

“This is a source of income for more than 40 000 households, and we don’t have a response as to what is going to happen to us,” union leader Michael Camacho told reporters. “We demand the government and the labor ministry respect our rights.”

Samuel Diaz, a spokesmen for suppliers of the mine, said more than 2 500 companies will be affected by the closure, and that many of those firms have already seen revenue decline over the past month amid uncertainty about the operation’s future.

Meanwhile, a construction workers union that’s against the mine vowed to stay on the streets until it’s closed. Other groups of anti-mine demonstrators, including environmentalists and civil groups, celebrated the court’s decision Tuesday night, blocking roads and setting off fireworks.

The $10-billion mine finds itself at the center of a tussle between economic development and prosperity and protecting the environment and national sovereignty. The mine accounts for more than 1% of global mined copper and delivers the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue.

First Quantum weighed in Wednesday, saying in a satement that the court’s ruling and Cortizo’s comments “do not take into account the rights of thousands of Panamanians who depend on the Cobre Panama mine and mining for their livelihood.”