Third Day Of Work Stoppage On Panama Canal Expansion Project

Friday, April 25 2014 @ 04:55 pm EDT

Contributed by: Don Winner

The construction worker strike that has stopped work on the project to expand the Panama Canal, as well as hundreds of real estate projects, is in its third day today while the leaders of the business community and union leaders each accuse the other of intransigence while they insist they want to negotiate.

The National Construction Workers Trade Union (SUNTRACS) began an indefinite strike on Wednesday to demand a wage increase of 80% over the next four years, compared to the offer of 21% over the same period offered by the Panamanian Chamber of Construction (CAPAC).

The executive director of the CAPAC, Eduardo Rodríguez, said Friday the businessmen want a "reasonable" wage increase for the workers, and he accused the union leadership of being "intransigent " by proposing a "disproportionate " wage adjustment.

Increasing the wages of construction workers by 80% over the four years of the new collective bargaining agreement would not only shrink the market, but it would also trigger an increase in housing prices, said Rodriguez.

But the General Secretary of the SUNTRACS Saul Mendez said the only thing that's "disproportionate are the earnings" of the construction companies.

Builders accumulated profits of "337% between 2006 and 2013, while wages grew by 18% in the same time period," said Mendez, who accused the businessmen of amassing "fabulous fortunes on the backs of the workers."

"The strike continues," and he said it is being observed by 98% of construction workers.

This afternoon the SUNTRACS would return to the negotiating table "to see if the business leaders propose something new, because they have maintained a stubborn and uncompromising position," said Mendez.

The Executive Director of the CAPAC said today they would meet with business leaders and others who are linked to the industry to seek a "consensus guideline" that will be taken this afternoon at the negotiating table that has remained open with the union despite the strike.

"This meeting does not guarantee we take an additional or improved proposal (to the bargaining table) unless authorized, but everything will depend on the assessments made ​​and the guidelines to be given to the negotiators," said Rodríguez .

The president of the Chamber of Commerce , Industry and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP), José Luis Ford, who attended the meeting with Capac, on Friday called the wage aspirations of the construction workers "disproportionate, excessive, and baseless."

Ford said beyond the damages that may have been been caused in the sector during the first two days of the strike, one has to also quantify the damage to the Panama Canal expansion, "the most important project for the country."

The consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), led by the Spanish Sacyr and in charge of the construction of the third set of locks, the major part of the expansion project, said Wednesday that the strike "impacts the work schedule of the project" that for various reasons has already accumulated a delay of 15 months.

Neither GUPC or Panama Canal Authority (ACP ) have reported on the magnitude of the impact of the strike on the work schedule, expected to culminate in December 2015, the new date set after the contractual dispute between the parties stopped work on the project for 16 days in February. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: The one bald faced lie in this article is the claim that 98% of construction workers are supporting this strike. That's simply not the case. I don't even really understand why the responsibility of negotiating the collective bargaining agreement with the CAPAC falls to the SUNTRACS. They only have 12,000 members and they do NOT represent anything even close to a majority of the workers in this sector. It feels like something that's been grandfathered in, from the days when they were the top dog...

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