Commission Proposes 4-Day Workweek

September 17, 2004

PUBLIC employees may be allowedto voluntarily divide their workweek overthe course of four days and take eitherMonday or Friday off, if the governmentadopts one of the measures proposed by aspecial commission charged with definingthe country’s energy-rationing policy.Discussion of the measures comes at atime when global fuel prices are nearrecord highs.Mondays and Fridays are the days withthe most vehicle traffic, and keeping a portionof the country’s 157,000 public employeesat home during those days would significantlyreduce traffic as well as gasoline consumption,said Gloria Villa, director of theenergy section of the Environment andEnergy Ministry (MINAE).The measure would be voluntary – noworker would be forced to change his orher schedule, she said. Each institutionwould be required to coordinate the schedulesof its workers on the four-day scheduleso it would not disrupt the institution’soperation.Workers would come in early and/orleave late during their four workdays tocompensate for the extra day off.“PUBLIC services would not deterioratein any way,” Villa said.In addition to implementing a four-dayworkweek for public employees, the commissionis also proposing a national publicawarenesscampaign promoting carpoolingand efficient use of fuel (TT, Aug. 20).However, before any of the measuresare adopted, President Abel Pacheco andhis Cabinet members must approve them.Pacheco is scheduled to review the commission’ssuggestions on Oct. 1.Public-sector labor unions, includingthe Costa Rican Education Workers’Union(SEC), wasted no time in blasting the proposedmeasures.“Once more the Executive Branchattempts to offer misguided solutions tonational problems,” said Gilberth Díaz, presidentof SEC. “It forgets that the implicationsof proposals such as these must be analyzed.”Díaz said high oil prices should not beused as a pretext to shorten the workweek.He fears the measure would pave the way forlegislators to approve a bill that would makethe country’s labor laws more flexible – tothe detriment of workers.Free-zone companies, high-tech exportfirms, service and online gambling (sportsbook)call-centers have on several occasionsspoken out in favor of making CostaRica’s labor laws more flexible.IN response to record-high internationaloil prices, on Aug. 17, President AbelPacheco created the commission, composedof representatives of several ministries,the Costa Rican Electricity Institute(ICE) and the Costa Rican PetroleumRefinery (RECOPE), to study the country’senergy situation (TT, Aug. 20).Originally, the commission was giventhree weeks to come up with concrete proposalson how to reduce the country’s fuelconsumption. However, it was unable tomeet its deadline because of civil unrestand the resignations of multiple governmentofficials in the past three weeks (TT,Aug. 27; Sept. 3, 10).The commission recently finished itswork, according to Villa, who said she hasworked closely with commission members.OIL prices have skyrocketed in the pastyear. The price of a barrel of oil on the NewYork Mercantile Exchange rose to $44.57this week. That’s lower than the record highof $48.70 reached last month, but significantlyhigher than last year’s average of $28.The amount of petroleum consumed byCosta Rica grew 45.5% from 1993-2003,according to the Costa Rican PetroleumRefinery (RECOPE).The increase in consumption is mostlybecause of an increase in the number ofmotor vehicles in circulation. The numberof vehicles here doubled in the past decadefrom 439,235 in 1993 to 949,049 last year,according to the Public Works andTransport Ministry (MOPT).Most imported oil was used for motorvehicle fuels. Oil used for gasoline (regularand super) increased from 2.77 millionbarrels in 1993 to 5.28 million barrels lastyear. Oil used for diesel also increasedfrom 3.34 million barrels in 1993 to 5.03million barrels last year.Total oil consumption increased from10.30 million barrels in 1993 to 14.99 millionbarrels last year.Between January and July of thisyear, the country consumed 8.99 millionbarrels of oil.In 1993, Costa Rica’s oil tab was$215.40 million. By last year it had morethan doubled to $525.94 million. RECOPEestimates this year’s oil tab will surpass$700 million as a result of nine months ofrecord-high international oil prices.

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