An international workers’ rights group that had filed a complaint earlier this year with the U.S. Department of Laborin defense of the Atlantic Port Authority Workers’ Union (Sintrajap) is celebrating a ruling issued Wednesday by Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV).
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Coast Longshore Division had condemned the Costa Rican government for disrupting democratic processes relating to leadership of Sintrajap, accusing the government of former President Oscar Arias of breaking down windows and doors of areas in which workers were “assembling in peace” and of putting the social welfare of workers “behind the gains of transnational companies.”
The ILWU’s charges were made in regard to a process earlier this year whereby Sintrajap’s leadership was replaced by a vote of the union’s assembly. The union’s new leadership accepted a payment of $137 million for union members in return for accepting transition of the port to private management.
The Sala IV determined last week that the vote violated the union’s regular procedures and due process, and effectively restored the former leaders of Sintrajap, who are staunch opponents of privatization. The court nullified any action taken in their six-month absence.
“The return of the legitimate union leadership is a victory for hardworking people everywhere, who count on having the democratic right to join a union and improve their standard of living, ensure their safety and strengthen their communities,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath, who has been campaigning on behalf of the Limón dockworkers’ union since January.
The controversy arose under Arias’ initiative to privatize the port. Arias argued that placing port operations in the hands of private companies would make port management much more efficient and reliable, and pushed hard for the agreement with the new union leadership earlier this year.
But the Sala IV nullified the pact on Wednesday.
“It’s an important step forward in the never-ending battle to protect workers from forces that would like to return to the days before union rights, when poverty and unsafe working conditions in the workplace were considered an acceptable cost of doing business,” McEllrath said.
President Laura Chinchilla, who shares Arias´ free-trade philosophy, said she saw the decision as a setback, but pledged to continue to move forward toward the goal of privatizing the port.
“My government will not go backward in its quest of modernizing the ports of Limón,” Chinchilla said at a press conference on Thursday. “There are other ways and alternatives to continue with this modernization.”
Political leaders from opposition parties urged greater openness to dialogue on the part of the Executive Branch. In a joint press release, they said the former administration under Arias acted “arrogantly” and advised the current administration not to commit the same error.