Contributed by: Don WinnerBy Chris Sleight - Work on the expansion of the Panama Canal has stalled due to the death of a worker and strikes by 700 others seeking pay rises and better working conditions. The disruption came just days after the dignitaries from Panama, Italy and Spain officially inaugurated the expansion project. The expansion work is being carried out by the GUPC consortium led by Italy's Impregilo and including Spain's Sacyr, Belgian dredging specialist Jan de Nul and Panamanian contractor Constructora Urbana. The US$ 3.32 billion contract to construct two new flights of locks - one on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific - was awarded last July by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). That worker that died is reported to be a 49 year-old who was killed while working on Jan de Nul's 'Marco Polo' dredger on Lake Gatún, on the Atlantic side of the canal. A spokesperson for Jan de Nul refused to comment on the reports.
Meanwhile between 500 and 700 workers have gone on strike to protest against low pay, poor working conditions and safety standards. Local reports say some 28 of these, all members of the SUNTRACS construction workers' union, have been arrested, although it is not clear on what charges. June 30 saw Panamanian Prime Minister Ricardo Martinelli host a ceremony to mark the start of GUPC's work on the project. Guests included Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Deputy Premier Manuel Chaves, and the disruption to work so soon after this ceremony is proving to be an embarrassment to the Panamanian government. (www.khl.com)