The strike called in Panama by the main union of construction in demand of higher wage increases, and which has stopped hundreds of projects throughout the country has generated millions in losses.
The Minister of Labor and Labor Development, Luis Ernesto Carles, acknowledged Sunday night, after the last failed negotiation between the parties, that the "radical" positions of the Panamanian Chamber of Construction (Capac) and The Single Trade Union of Construction and Allied Workers of Panama (SUNTRACS) "do not help" to solve the labor dispute.
"We value their movements at the table, however, for the good of the country, the agreement is urgent, if there is a stalemate, the Labor Code (CT) allows the union or the parties to request arbitration and solve the conflict," Carles said via twitter account.
The employers and the powerful union SUNTRACS have negotiated a new collective agreement for months, which will be in force from this year until 2022.
Although the parties have managed to reach a consensus on most of the clauses, the negotiations ran aground on the salary adjustment and, in the absence of agreement, the SUNTRACS began an indefinite strike on April 18, which keeps hundreds of works paralyzed.
The country's president, Juan Carlos Varela, said last week that the strike is "unsustainable" and demanded that the parties request arbitration, a proposal that was not supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP) one of the strongest business guilds in the country.
Once the arbitration commences, it would put an end to the strike, which is causing daily losses of about 30 million dollars, according to the employers, and the discontent of many workers who complain that they are not receiving the strike subsidy on time by the union. It is about 50 dollars a week.
The construction employers initially proposed a 0.5 percent wage increase over the next four years, equivalent to 2 percent in 2022, while the union demanded that the total adjustment be 60 percent, that is, 15 percent each year.
The parties, however, have lowered their claims and negotiations are currently stuck in a 2022 wage increase of 44 percent and 4 percent for the union and employers, respectively.
The construction sector is one of the engines of the Panamanian economy and in 2016 it accounted for 14.9 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), one of the most dynamic in the region with an economic expansion of 5.4 percent in 2017.
However, the sector has been decreasing for several years. Official data released last week indicate that construction activity in the private sector fell by 48 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period of 2017. (With information from EFE)