U.S. maritime unions representing pilots and other employees of the Panama Canal Commission are meeting with the Panamanian government to discuss labor relations on the canal after it is turned over to Panama in 2000.
The two-day conference, which began Thursday, was initiated by Timothy A. Brown, president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. It represents Panama Canal marine pilots and other maritime personnel on the waterway.Mr. Brown said the "central issue" of the conference was severance pay for employees of the commission who cease to be employed by the U.S. government after the transition to Panamanian control.
Under Panamanian law, government workers who lose their jobs but are unable to find new jobs paying at least 80 percent of their old salaries must receive severance pay. However, when the United States and Panama signed their 1978 agreement guiding the canal's transition, no money was set aside for the severance, Mr. Brown said.
"No one thought about it," he said. The issue has caused some tensions between Panamanian unions and canal management over the last year.
The conference seeks to foster good relationships between canal workers and the Panamanian government to ensure a smooth transition, the MM&P said. Panama is represented by a vice minister of labor and his chief adviser.
Also involved in the conference are the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, the National Maritime Union, and several building trades unions such as the boilermakers.
In a related development, the commission's board expanded the commission's capital budget by 53 percent over the next five years, raising spending to $376.5 million from $249.9 million. The extra $129.6 million will allow the canal to make structural changes needed to increase its operating capacity to 44 transits a day and maximum sustainable capacity to 50 a day.