June 17, 2024


Think Differently

Panama’s private employment agencies: an indispensable partner for creating decent employment for national and migrant workers

Doris Zapata Acevedo

In the recovery from the economic and social crisis left by the pandemic of COVID-19, employment is a crucial element. In a labour market of changing needs, companies around the world are turning to private employment agencies to find the staff they need.

This is a great opportunity to promote, from the private actors involved in the placement of workers, fair recruitment processes, which are processes that respond to the needs of companies and also respect the labour and human rights of the workers seeking employment, whether they are nationals or migrants.

It is therefore imperative that private employment agencies are properly regulated so that the rules of the game are clear to all parties. When properly, effectively and transparently regulated, private employment agencies – like public agencies – play a crucial role in the efficient and fair functioning of labour markets by matching the supply of jobs with workers with the required skills.

Panama’s placement agencies stepping forward

More than half a century ago, Panama already contemplated in its Labour Code the need to regulate the work of private placement agencies to ensure the welfare and safety of job seekers. Years later, in 1995, the country regulated the operation of these fee-charging private placement agencies through Executive Decree No. 105. This regulation stipulated the need for an operating license, the prohibition of charging commissions to workers, and the impossibility of placing or recruiting workers abroad.

The adoption in 1997 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 181 on private employment agencies was a decisive step for the world of work. Panama was one of the first countries in the world to ratify it, and the first in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With the ratification, and with the support of the ILO and other partners, the country worked to advance its regulations (in 2016, for example, the regulation of private placement agencies was updated through Executive Decree No. 32) and to make them effective, including private employment agencies in national employability and job prospecting strategies.

Public and private actors working together for fair employment practice

To make progress on the country’s employment and labour migration goals, public-private action is proving crucial. In the last three years, private placement agencies and the National Employment Service have worked closely together in training on the prevention of human trafficking and fraudulent offers, in the publication of offers on the National Employment Portal (www.empleospanama.gob.pa) or in the joint organisation of job fairs. A tangible example of the results of this public-private work is the participation of 20,000 people in the job fair jointly organised by the Konzerta agency and the Ministry of Labour and Labour Development (MITRADEL) in September 2022, which resulted in more than 5,000 employment contracts in the following weeks.

Currently, there are around one hundred duly registered agencies in Panama. In March 2022, MITRADEL made available an online consultation tool where the validity of each agency’s license can be checked: https://apps.mitradel.gob.pa/ConsultaAgencia/. In the second half of 2023, the agencies themselves will also be able to manage their licenses online.

Regulating and working hand in hand with private employment agencies safeguards national and migrant workers against abuses, and protects legitimate agencies against unfair competition from dishonest operators acting outside the legal and regulatory framework.

The adoption of ILO Convention No. 181 was a turning point for Panama. The country pushed for the changes it needed for the benefit of national and migrant workers, employers, and private employment agencies themselves.

To learn more about the Conventions, the ratification, and supports to member States, please read more at ILO Employment Services Portal and/or contact [email protected].