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Panama Canal expansion off to a bad start; strike starts after just six days

Panama City: The construction of a third set of locks for the Panama Canal has been stalled due to a strike involving close to 700 workers, who are demanding better working conditions and pay increases.??Meanwhile, negotiations have begun between representatives of the striking workers and the consortium handling the project, Grupo Unidos por el Canal.??The strike comes just six days after Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Manuel Chaves officially inaugurated the canal-expansion project.??"We have communication with the people. (The work's been shut down) and the strike is continuing," the secretary-general of the Suntracs construction union, Genaro Lopez, told Efe Tuesday, adding that 700 workers are taking part in the job action.??The protest began on Saturday and has gradually received the backing of more workers involved in building the third set of locks, a project being carried out by the GUPC consortium, which is led by Spain's Sacyr Vallehermoso and includes Italy's Impregilo, Belgium's Jan De Nul Group and Panama's Constructora Urbana.??Representatives of GUPC, which was awarded the $3.1 billion third-set-of-locks project, sat down Tuesday with union representatives in a bid to resolve the dispute.??The workers are demanding a salary hike, a solution to the lack of transportation for workers and more sanitary working conditions, among other improvements.  [08/07/10]

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