Rights Pamphlet - Panama

Jun 1, 2004

Seafarers' Rights On Panama Flag Ships

The Seamen's Church Institute
Telephone: +1 212-349-9090 Fax: +1 212-349-8342
E-mail: [email protected]

As a seafarer on a Panamanian flag ship, you have certain rights that are guaranteed by maritime laws and regulations of the Republic of Panama.

This booklet has been written to inform you of some of your rights and to help you find assistance if your rights have been violated. It is based on Law Decree No. 8 of February 26, 1998, known as the "Law Decree whereby Work at Sea and in Navigable Waterways is regulated." This regulation comes into effect April 27, 1998. This booklet replaces all earlier publications of our booklets, "Seafarers' Rights on Panamanian Flag Ships" (March, 1996).

References in the parentheses are to Law Decree No. 8 of February 26, 1998 and to other laws of the Republic of Panama.

Some sections of the law may have changed since the publication of this booklet. This is not a statement of the law, but only a quick reference based on Panamanian Law and Regulations.

The Center for Seafarers' Rights is ready to assist all seafarers who think that their rights to fair and decent working conditions have been denied.

We encourage questions, comments, and suggestions from readers of this booklet. Comments and contributions regarding the text are welcome so that corrections and improvements might be incorporated into future editions.

This booklet is available for free but may not be reprinted without permission. Copies of this and other publications of the Center for Seafarers' Rights are available at most seafarers' centers and on our website:


You may also write to us at:

Center for Seafarers' Rights
The Seamen's Church Institute
50 Broadway, Floor 26
New York, NY 10004
Telephone #: +1 212-349-9090
Fax #: +1 212-349-8342
E-mail: [email protected]


By law, all manning agencies incorporated in Panama are subject to the control, supervision and regulation of the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development of the Republic of Panama. (Art. 13) Only manning agencies that are registered with the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development may use the term "Manning Agency" or "Signing-on Agency" or similar terms as part of their name. (Art. 16) Manning agencies that operate in Panama must have a legal representative in Panama, registered with the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development. Manning agencies must inform the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development of their current name, address, telephone and fax numbers. (Art. 18)

If a manning agency loses its license to operate in Panama based on immorality, fraud, falsehood or bankruptcy, it will be unable to obtain a new license. (Art. 30)

Every manning agency operating in Panama must deposit between fifty thousand and one hundred thousand Balboas (B/.50,000 - B/.100,000) (as determined by the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development) with the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development. This money is available to cover crewmembers' repatriation, lodging and food expenses in case these items are not paid, or to cover any fines imposed on the manning agency. (Arts. 19, 21) Any monies depleted by the manning agency must be replenished. (Art. 22)

Manning agencies may not charge seafarers any fees, commissions, administrative costs, paperwork costs, research or verification of documents costs, or for any other reason. (Art. 25)

Manning agencies must keep an authenticated copy of your shipping articles (contract) as part of their records. (Art. 23)


When hiring or recruiting seafarers, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, race, political affiliation or union membership. (Art. 26)

The same salary shall be paid for the same job, performed for the same shipowner under comparable conditions of efficiency and ability and of equal time of service aboard the same ship. Bonuses and incentives for special services or tasks, years of service, or individual productivity are allowed. (Art. 5)


The Panama Maritime Authority is authorized to inspect any Panama-flag ship and to take action to ensure compliance with current regulations or international agreements on health or labor conditions that have been ratified by Panama. The Panama Maritime Authority may detain a vessel that has violated these health or labor conditions. (Arts. 114, 115, 117)

The Panama Maritime Authority will conduct a special inspection of a vessel whenever a written complaint is received from a majority of the crew or from a reputable shipowners or seafarer's organization. Complaints should be received within 48 hours of the vessel's scheduled departure. (Art. 65)

Panama will enforce Panamanian and international laws ratified by Panama related to crew accommodations through inspections. Panama will inspect all vessels periodically to ensure compliance with the law. (Art. 60)

Panama will establish inspection guidelines for water and food supplies, facilities used to store, handle, prepare and serve food and water, and the certificates of competency of the vessel's catering staff. (Art. 62)

The Captain of a Panamanian vessel, or an officer appointed by the captain, and a responsible member of the catering staff shall conduct periodic inspections of the food and water supplies and of the areas and facilities used for storing, handling, preparing and serving food. Inspection results shall be written in the ship's log. (Art. 64)


You have the right to read your contract before signing it. You have the right to allow a representative to read the contract and give you advise before you sign it. Your contract must be signed by you and by the shipowner or the shipowner's representative. (Art. 34)

Your employment contract must contain at least the following information:

1) Your name, date and place of birth, nationality, seafarer's identity document number and passport number;
2) The shipowner's name and legal address;
3) The place and date of your contract;
4) The name of your ship;
5) The trip or trips you will make, if known when you sign the contract;
6) Your position aboard the ship;
7) The date and place for boarding the vessel (if possible);
8) Information about the food and accommodations on board;
9) Your salary, the currency in which it will be paid, and the method and place of payment;
10) Annual leave information;
11) The shipowner's obligation to you in case of accident, sickness, or death, and information regarding insurance coverage. (Art. 35)

Your contract may be in one of three forms:

1) For a definite period of time;
2) Per voyage;
3) For an indefinite period of time. (Art. 32)

Every Panama-flag ship must have a document called a "Crew List" which contains at least the following information:

1) Name of the ship and call sign
2) Name and address of the shipowner
3) Names of all officers and crew, indicating age, nationality, address, and name and address of next of kin
4) Cargo on board
5) Seafarer's identity document number for each crewmember
6) Information on crew wages
7) Place and date of employment
8) Time and duration of the contract
9) Place and date of disembarkation
10) Signatures of each crewmember
11) Sum paid at time of disembarkation
12) Captain's signature at disembarkation (Art. 31)

Your employment contract should be attached to the Crew List, (Art. 33) and should be signed by both you and the shipowner or his representative. (Art. 34) The contract must be provided to competent authorities at their request. (Art. 33)


The normal hours of work should be agreed upon in your employment contract. (Art. 68)

Work that exceeds the daily limits established in your contract is considered overtime. (Art. 68)

Overtime pay may not be less than 125% of your basic hourly wage. (Art. 68)

Your contract may provide for benefits other than cash for working overtime hours. (Art. 68)

Statutory overtime guidelines do not apply to the captain, chief engineer, steward, purser, officers in charge of a service but who don't stand watch, self-employed persons, and persons working for a commission. (Art. 69)

Time used to carry out the following tasks is not considered as either regular working hours or overtime hours:

1) emergency work when the safety of the ship, cargo, or crew or passengers are in danger;
2) work to help other ships or persons in distress;
3) roll calls and emergency drills;
4) special work for customs, quarantine or other sanitary formalities;
5) extra time required for normal watch relief. (Art. 70)

You are entitled to paid annual leave as specified in your employment contract and in international agreements. (Art. 73)


Your wages begin on the day you begin service aboard the vessel. If you have to travel from the place where you signed the contract in order to meet the ship, then your wages begin the day you begin to travel. (Art. 39)

Your wages will be paid in the currency agreed upon in your employment contract. (Art. 40)

If your voyage is interrupted after you have sailed from your original port, you are entitled to receive the total value of your contract for the agreed voyage. (Art. 46)

If your voyage is extended and you are employed on a voyage contract, you are entitled to an additional proportional wage payment. There shall be no wage reduction if the voyage is shortened. (Art. 43) If the voyage is cancelled, you are entitled to be paid your earned wages and to keep any advance pay you have already received. (Art. 44) If the voyage contract is cancelled, you are entitled to an additional sum of one third of the total amount of the contract. (Art. 44)

If the voyage is suspended due to conditions beyond anyone's control (such as earthquakes, floods, or war), you are entitled only to the wages and advances you have already earned or received. (Art. 45)

If you are fired for cause, you may only receive the wages you earned, your proportional annual leave, and your repatriation funds. (Art. 52)


Only the following deductions may be taken from your wages:

1) Social Security dues (only if you are affiliated with the Panama Social Security System).
2) Repayment of debts owed by you to the shipowner for advances or excess
3) payments. No more than 15% of your wages may be deducted for this reason.
4) Housing mortgage payments made directly to the real estate company or credit institution, or the rent to be paid for housing, up to 30% of your wages.
5) Family allotments (any amount).
6) Union dues.
7) Attachments and garnishments up to 15% of the surplus above the amount that can not be garnished.
8) Deductions established by law.

Except for family allotments, the total deductions may never exceed 50% of your basic wages. (Art. 47)


The shipowner is responsible for providing assistance to you if you become ill or injured until you fully recover from your illness or injury, or until the permanent nature of your illness or disability is confirmed. (Art. 87)

If you become ill or injured in the course of your duties, you are entitled to the cost of medical, surgical and hospital expenses, and the supply of medication and other therapeutic means of good quality and in the amount required. You are also entitled to the cost of food and accommodation while receiving medical treatment. (Art. 86)

The shipowner must have insurance coverage for health risks resulting from illnesses that seafarers may contract. (Art. 84)

The shipowner must pay for your repatriation if your illness or injury requires you to be repatriated. (Art. 37)

If you disembark due to illness or injury, your employment continues until your disability ends, unless you work on a passenger ship. If you work on a passenger ship, your employment will be terminated no later than 30 days after your illness or injury began. (Art. 48)

When illness results in your inability to work, the shipowner must pay you your full wages until you have made a complete recovery, or until the permanent nature of your illness is confirmed, or until your contract expires. If you are disembarked for medical reasons, your entitlement to wages is limited to 12 months after the onset of the illness. In the case of international passenger ships, your entitlement to wages is limited to 30 days after your illness began. (Art. 89)

The shipowner must pay for ordinary funeral expenses if a crewmember dies after disembarking, if he was still receiving assistance from the shipowner as a result of illness. (Art. 90)

The shipowner must take all measures to protect the personal belongings left behind by sick, injured or deceased crewmembers. (Art. 91)

Unless a written contract specifies otherwise, lawsuits to enforce a shipowner's obligations for illness and injury benefits must be brought before the Panama Maritime Labor Courts. (Art. 92)


The shipowner must provide you with accommodation facilities that are conveniently installed, ventilated and illuminated, as well as in proportion to the number of occupants and reserved exclusively for their use. (Art. 59)

Your food must be varied, sufficient, healthy and, in each case, must be appropriate to the ship's trade. (Art. 61)
You are entitled to register a complaint in writing to the Panama Maritime Authority if international agreements or national laws regarding food and accommodation are not being observed aboard your ship. (Art. 63)


Your employment contract may be cancelled in the following circumstances:

1) By mutual agreement of those who signed the contract;
2) By the shipowner or the shipowner's representative when authorized by law (see reasons listed under Article 50, below);
3) You may resign from your employment, but your resignation can not give up your legal rights and your resignation must be in writing before a labor or consular official or witnessed by two of your ship's crewmembers;
4) Upon your death;
5) If your ship is lost or if it becomes unseaworthy as defined by the insurance policy or charter agreement;
6) If the ship is laid-up for more than 90 days;
7) If you disembark due to illness or injury;
8) If your ship changes registry;
9) If your ship changes ownership;
10) When your contract expires. (Art. 48)

Your employment contract expires in one of three ways:

1) If you have signed a contract for a definite period of time, the date of termination is the date of the expiration of your contract.
2) If your contract is signed per voyage, your contract terminates upon arrival at the destination port plus discharge time.
3) If your contract is signed for an indefinite period of time, the conditions that determine termination must be stated in your contract, including the amount of notice that must be given. (Art. 35)

You may terminate your employment contract for the reasons listed below. If you terminate your contract for these reasons, you will be entitled to the same indemnifications as specified when the shipowner ends the contract without just cause. (Art. 53) If you choose to end your contract for one of the following reasons, you must do so within three months of your having notice of the occurrence. (Art. 54)

You may terminate your employment contract for cause for the following reasons:

1) If the local, national or foreign authorities declare the ship unseaworthy;
2) If the accommodation, food or water given to you is deficient or unsanitary and the master fails to take the necessary measures to remedy the deficiencies in a reasonable period of time;
3) If the master mistreats or abuses you (this must be confirmed);
4) If the shipowner fails to comply with laws and regulations related to safety, health and sanitation, but only if the master is aware of these deficiencies and refuses to adopt necessary corrective measures within a reasonable period of time;
5) If your wages are not paid in the manner prescribed by law or in the contract;
6) If the shipowner's action or lack of action endangers the safety of the ship or those on board;
7) If the shipowner or his representative tries to get you to commit a crime;
8) If your contract is substantially modified. (Art. 53)

The shipowner (or his representative) may terminate your employment before your contract expires for the reasons listed below. Your employment may not be terminated for cause for an event that occurred more than three months before. (Art. 51) If you are fired for cause, you are entitled to be paid only the wages you have earned, your proportional annual leave, and for your repatriation. (Art. 52)

Your employment may be terminated for cause, without notice, for the following reasons:

1) Deception, by presenting false certificates of competency;
2) Violence, threats or insults against the shipowner, officers, or fellow crewmembers (unless there is provocation);
3) Disclosure or publication of technical secrets or important administrative matters that could hurt the shipowner;
4) Serious dishonesty;
5) Commission of crimes against the shipowner's property, the ship, or anyone aboard the ship, or the charterer;
6) Intentionally causing damage to the engines, installations, equipment, structure, or operation of the ship or the cargo;
7) Endangering the security of the ship, the cargo or the people on board the ship;
8) Open and repeated refusal to use safety equipment or to participate in drills;
9) Refusing to obey orders, without justified cause and to the harm of the shipowner;
10) Possession or use of illegal drugs, or for drunkenness;
11) Participation in immoral or criminal conduct, including assisting a stowaway to board the ship, allowing unauthorized people to board or leave, or for participating in the drug or contraband trade;
12) Abandoning work, leaving the ship without authorization, or refusing to work without justified reason;
13) Failing to meet the ship when it departs;
14) Failing to assist the captain in case of an attack or disaster that could endanger the ship or the cargo;
15) Inability to perform your work or inefficiency in performing your duties. (Art. 50)

If you have an indefinite term contract, the shipowner may terminate your employment without just cause as long as you are given thirty days' notice and are paid the indemnification listed below plus earned wages, proportional leave pay and repatriation expenses. (Art. 55)

1) If you worked from one to five months, you are entitled to 20% of your monthly wages.
2) If you worked from more than five months to eleven months, you are entitled to 30% of your monthly wages.
3) If you worked from more than eleven months to twenty-three months, you are entitled to 100% of your monthly wages.
4) If you worked from more than twenty-three months to thirty-five months, you are entitled to 300% of your monthly wages.
5) If you worked from more than thirty-five months to sixty months, you are entitled to 400% of your monthly wages.
6) If you worked more than sixty months, you are entitled to 600% of your monthly wages. (Art. 56)

If your contract is for a definite period of time and your employment is terminated early without just cause, you are entitled to be paid the basic wages you would have earned during the remainder of the contract. (Art. 57)


Repatriation expenses include transportation, lodging, wages, and maintenance from the time of your discharge to the time of your return to either the port where your contract was signed or to the port where you joined the vessel. (Art. 38)

Before ending the employment contract and regardless of its type, it is always the shipowner's duty to repatriate you, at your request, to either the port where the contract was signed or to the port where you joined the vessel. (Art. 36)

The shipowner must pay for your repatriation if your contract ends because of shipwreck or if you are dismissed without justification. (Art. 37) The shipowner must also pay for your repatriation if you are fired for cause. (Art. 52)

The shipowner must pay for your repatriation if your employment becomes suspended due to an illness or injury. (Art. 37)

You must pay for your own repatriation if you terminate your employment without the shipowner's approval. (Art. 37)


In the case of a shipwreck, the shipowner must pay the crew an indemnity for their loss of employment. This indemnity continues for up to three months at the same wages as you earned while working aboard the ship. The shipowner may discontinue payment if you begin working again, or after three months. (Art. 49) The shipowner must reimburse you in cash for personal items lost or damaged due to a shipwreck. You must provide a written declaration of the personal items you are bringing aboard and their value to the master. (Art. 49)


It is illegal to discriminate against you on account of union membership. (Art. 26)

You are entitled to join in collective bargaining. (Arts. 33, 75)


Whenever there is a problem, seafarers may contact either of the following to present any claim they may have:

any union to which you belong,or

Directorate of Consular and Maritime Affairs
6 West 48th Street
10th Floor
New York, NY 10036
tel: (212) 869-6440
fax: (212) 575-2288/85

Direccion General Consular y de Naves
PO Box 5245
Panama 5
Republica de Panama
tel: (507) 270-0166
fax: (507) 270-0716

Finally, if you have a question about your rights, or any problem, you may contact the:

Center for Seafarers' Rights
The Seamen's Church Institute
Telephone #: +1 212-349-9090
Fax #: +1 212-349-8342
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: http://www.seamenschurch.org