San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Legislators Consider Expanding Rights of Unions

Steeped in an economic recession and watching the employment rate climb higher, Costa Rica s legislators find themselves in the midst of a debate that could dramatically change labor practices here.

The reform, brought to the Legislative Assembly by the Citizen Action Party (PAC), would extend the reach of workers unions and make it more difficult to fire employees.

Manuel Rodríguez, president of the  Union of Private-Sector Chambers and Associations (UCCAEP), expressed interestin further protecting labor organizations, but said he is concerned about a clause in the new legislation that would make it more difficult to eliminate positions.

It ties the hands of businesses, he said, during a telephone interview on Thursday. When you are in a crisis, like the one we are in now, and you want to decrease the number of employees, you can t.

Costa Rica has long had an embedded culture of solidarismo, in which internal associations of workers negotiate directly  with their employers and take part in the management of the businesses.

Across the private sector, these workers associations have stood in the place of workers unions for more than 40 years and, according to a study by the International Trade Union Confederation, they historically have outnumbered trade unions by four to one.

But in 2006, the International Labor Organization (ILO) added Costa Rica to its list of countries with alleged labor violations, saying the Central American country fails to protect the free exercise of trade union rights.

Albino Vargas Barrantes, secretary general of the National Association of Public and Private Employees, hopes to change that with the reforms to the labor code currently before the legislature.

In a press release, he wrote, Fortunately for Costa Rican democracy, the majority of the legislature appears ready to help clean the large stain that the country has in its file, following its repeated disgrace in terms of repeatedly failing to comply with ILO (mandates)on Freedom of Association.

Chrissie Long


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