San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica health care workers end 4-day strike

After walking off the job last Tuesday, a group of public health care workers has agreed to return to work after reaching a limited deal with the government over the weekend.

Backed by several unions, thousands of employees at Costa Rica’s Social Security System (Caja) had demanded better salary benefits, including the calculation of paid leave into year-end Christmas bonuses, known as aguinaldos. Unions were unsuccessful at securing an agreement from the government to meet that demand, but government officials did agree to work towards a solution to the Caja’s burgeoning debt, partially caused by government delays in making outstanding payments to the public health care system for past services. The government owes the Caja some $1.4 million.

The Caja employes more than 48,000 workers, but according to government figures, only an estimated 10 percent walked off the job this week. A Caja spokeswoman said those employees would be docked pay for missed days during this week’s strike, which affected medical services in 29 hospitals, care centers and administrative offices in the country.

President Laura Chinchilla acknowledged the Caja’s financial crisis last week and said the government would cancel $175 million of its debt with the Caja by issuing bonds. Government negotiators also promised to form a commission to examine the many issues plaguing the state-run health care system.

The Caja benefits more than 4 million residents of Costa Rica and thousands of Nicaraguan immigrants.

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