January 29, 1999
Panama Canal may lose 100 pilots if demands unmet

                  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 a
                  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 the
                  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 asked
                  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.