PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -- Up to 100 of the 280 pilots who guide ships
through the Panama Canal will not return to work next year if their labor
demands are not met, members of the canal's Pilots' Association said Friday.
The 100 pilots are scheduled to retire with U.S. government pensions when
the United States hands over control of the canal to Panama on Dec. 31.
About 75 percent of the retiring pilots are Americans.
But almost all will have to be rehired by the new administration to prevent
sudden shortage of qualified pilots. The average age of the retiring pilots is
The pilots insist they will not return to their posts unless they receive
same terms under which they currently work, including six-figure salaries and
five months' vacation a year.
"I won't come back unless they keep the six-four," said one pilot, who
not to be identified, referring to a plan in which pilots receive four weeks'
vacation for every six uninterrupted weeks of work.
"There are probably 40 guys here who have families in the States and who
commute who wouldn't come back either."
The pilots said vacations and accident insurance were the main stumbling
The labor negotiations have gone to arbitration in U.S. courts. Alberto
Aleman Zubieta, chief administrator of the Panama Canal Commission,
which now runs the waterway, said a decision was due in early February.
Aleman told reporters that any changes in labor or insurance policies would
not jeopardize the canal's security and were necessary since the canal would
no longer be a nonprofit entity once Panama took control.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.