San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Only 10 percent of workers join Social Security strike

A call for a massive strike by workers for the country’s Social Security System (Caja) seems to have failed. On Tuesday, the initial day of the protest, the government reported only 10 percent of employees joined the strike.

Doctors, nurses, psychologists and other workers for the Caja began an indefinite general strike Tuesday. The strike was supposed to stp patient’s care in all major public medical centers in the country, such as Hospital Mexico and Hospital San Juan de Dios. Public hospitals had delays and canceled appointments, but for the most part functioned without any major problems.
By late afternoon, Ileana Balmaceda, the Caja’s executive director, said thethe institution’s lawyers decided to initiate proceedings to declare the strike illegal.
Costa Rican law states a strike can be declared illegal if less than 60 percent of those working for the same employer join the movement. Balmaceda also insisted that strikers could be fired.
However, union leaders claimed that more than 90 percent of Caja employees joined the strike. They accused government authorities of providing false information to the press.

The strike comes after a ruling from the Attorney General’s Office made it illegal for Caja workers to receive 100 percent of their salary while on sick leave. The majority of workers in the country are allowed just 60 percent of their wages under the same circumstances.

However, unionists argue that full payment of wages during a sick leave is a protected right negotiated years ago, and it must be respected.

“The only option we have right now is to strike, as our employer, the government-is not showing any respect for our rights,” Sequeira said.

A fmeeting between union leaders and members of the Caja’s board of directors Monday evening failed to prevent the strike.

Caja authorities advised employees to not join the strike, saying it is not the right way to solve problems.

This strike comes amid a controversy over the financial future of the Caja. Last Friday, a study from the Pan American Health Organization revealed that a failure to stop the increasing costs of the institution could drive the Caja into bankruptcy by 2015.

Strike organizers called on all unions in the country to join a larger protest Thursday at 10 a.m. in downtown San José.

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