Work on the Panama Canal expansion project has suffered another setback, as construction workers building the new set of locks for larger vessels have gone on strike, according to a notice posted on the website of contractor Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC).
The action by the National Trade Union of Workers in Industry Construction is impacting the work schedule on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Canal, where new entrances and locks are being built. The work stoppage began more than a week ago.
Central American newspapers report that the construction union is seeking a raise of 20 percent per year for its members.
GUPC was involved in its own dispute this year with the Panama Canal Authority over who is responsible for $1.6 billion inc cost overruns. GUPC tried to strong-arm the authority into covering what it claims were unforeseen costs. Canal officials said most of the extra expenses were the fault of GUPC. The standoff led to a severe slowdown in work and even a short stoppage before both sides agreed on a financing plan to pay future operational costs while the disputed figures go through legal channels. The contract dispute delayed the project's estimated completion by about three months, until the end of 2015.
Officials have said the wider entrance to the Panama Canal will be open to commercial shipping late in the first quarter of 2016, but the labor situation could push back the start date further.