A United States labor union has filed a complaint on behalf of dockworkers in Limón accusing the Costa Rican government of “serious noncompliance on repeated occasions with the labor laws of Costa Rica.”
The 18-page document was presented last Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA). It alleges that the Costa Rican government launched a campaign to discredit the unions, removed democratically-elected union leaders and froze their bank accounts, and ramped up the police presence to ensure a smooth transition to port privatization.
“People from the United States believe Costa Rica is a paradise,” said Robert McEllrath, international president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), who filed the complaint along with Costa Rica’s National Association of Public and Private Workers and the Workers Union of the Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA).
“But Costa Rica has been transformed into a country in which the police break down windows and doors of areas in which workers are assembling in peace, in which the government disperses propaganda to put down union elections and in which the social welfare of the workers and their families are relegated to second place behind the gains of transnational companies,” he continued.
Conflicts between workers groups and the central government have arisen in response to a privatization effort whereby management of the nation’s major ports is being removed from the hands of the government and placed under the management of private companies. According to former President Oscar Arias, this move should make the ports more efficient and ultimately bring more commerce to Costa Rica.
Earlier this year, serious disputes arose between the government and unions over a plan to privative the Atlantic ports of Limón and Moín.
McEllrath said that when Costa Rica underwent the same privatization process at the Pacific port of Caldera, 90 percent of workers lost their jobs. Those who still have their jobs received a two-thirds pay cut.
“They are still suffering enormous consequences,” McEllrath said.
Former Costa Rican minister to the president Rodrigo Arias claimed that of the 900 workers who lost their jobs, 700 found new ones.
The San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents 25,000 dockworkers on the Pacific coast of the United States.