PANAMA CITY: Panama struck a deal Monday with bus drivers in the capital to suspend a strike that unleashed transit chaos days before the city hosts the Summit of the Americas.
Panama City drivers launched the indefinite strike Monday morning, stranding tens of thousands of passengers and bringing unwelcome attention to the city as it finalized preparations for Friday and Saturday’s summit.
But hours later the government reached a deal with the drivers’ union to suspend the strike, Communication Secretary Manuel Dominguez announced on Twitter.
The agreement ended a tumultuous shutdown that saw police arrest striking workers who blocked buses from leaving terminals, as desperate commuters tried to crowd aboard the few buses circulating.
Under the deal, the arrested drivers will be released and government officials will meet with union leaders and a delegate from the Congressional transportation committee for further discussions.
The drivers are demanding the immediate transfer of $12 million in severance pay to nearly 5,000 workers facing layoffs as the government buys out private bus operator MiBus.
The government has promised the workers will be paid once the negotiations with MiBus are finished, but union leaders accused it of striking a secret deal with the company then stalling on their payouts.
The strike came with 34 heads of state and government set to meet in the Panamanian capital.
The guests include Cuban President Raul Castro, invited to the summit for the first time after he and US President Barack Obama announced a historic rapprochement between Havana and Washington on December 17.