San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

San José Bus Drivers Suffer Long Hours

San José bus companies appear to be endangering the public and exploiting their drivers, who often work up to 18 hours daily.

In a blatant breach of the labor laws, many San José bus drivers allege that they work excessive hours every day, with only one hour breaks, six days a week.

A pay slip belonging to a driver for Consorcio Operativo del Este S.A (COESA), a three-company consortium operating a fleet of 133 buses along 17 routes throughout San José, revealed a 5:30 a.m. start and a 10:43 p.m. finish one day this week.

The 40-year-old driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said he earns a base pay of ¢1,074 ($1,85) per hour and has had one minor collision in the six months he has been at the company.

Referring to the pay slip showing hours worked, he said, “This is considered a normal day. The company knows it is illegal, but it doesn’t care. There is a culture of accepting long hours, and the drivers who don’t usually find themselves out of a job. It is exploitation, and people need to know about it.”

The labor law, enforced by the Ministry of Labor, states that a working day from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. should consist of eight hours on the job. Should the worker accept overtime, the total hours worked should not exceed 12.

COESA, whose motto is “Where Everybody Counts” and whose vision for the future is “To be a model business when it comes to modernizing our processes,” refused to comment.

The driver, who showed The Tico Times a batch of similar pay slips dating back six months, continued, “Yes, I feel tired when I finish and, yes, it is dangerous to be at the wheel for such a long time with just a one-hour break for lunch, but what can I do? You just have a coffee or a Coca-Cola and get on with it.

“A standard eight hour shift wouldn’t be enough to live on, especially with two children hoping to start university soon. All the other bus companies are the same; they all do it.

Many of the drivers are from abroad – from Nicaragua or Cuba – and to them the money is good. But it’s not good for those, like me, who are from here.”

The Tico Times also spoke with drivers from other city bus companies, including Coopepar, Transplusa, Autotransportes Caribeños and Transportes del Este Montoya S.A, and was told by all that a normal working day was between 14 and 18 hours.

A Transplusa driver who admitted to working 18-hour shifts, six days a week, said, “I know that the law says you shouldn’t, but if I don’t, I won’t earn enough.”

His boss, Pablo Benavides, head of personnel for the company, responded that the drivers do work a lot of overtime hours “because they need the money, but I don’t know where he pulled those figures from. They don’t work that much.”

A Nicaraguan driver on the San Diego-Tres Ríos route for Transportes del Este Montoya S.A said he works from 3.30 a.m. until 10.30 p.m., five days a week, sending much of his weekly salary back home.

COESA drivers are paid weekly and, as the law insists, they receive a 50 percent increase on their basic hourly rate for every hour of overtime worked.

Before payment, the firm – with the help of an electronic reader positioned inside the buses’ doors – calculates the number of passengers each driver transported that week and

how much money was taken in. If the number of passengers exceeds the correct total of monies taken in for that number of riders, the difference is subtracted from the driver’s wages.

“For me, this is the worst part,” said one driver. “The electronic reader is always adjusted in favor of the company. If people stand at the entrance of the bus too long and move back and forth on the steps, it will count more passengers, and I have to pay. If, when it is busy, people go past without paying, I have to pay. If the reader is simply faulty, I end up paying. You can lose between ¢5,000 and ¢20,000 a week that way.”

Juan Diego Vargas, a lawyer for the Ministry of Labor, said, “What they are doing is completely illegal and extremely dangerous. It is important that bus drivers are well rested. In cases such as this, an inspector would be sent out to investigate and then, depending on the gravity of the situation, issue fines.”

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