San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Teachers, public workers protest against salary cuts

Thousands of public workers and teachers marched Friday in the Costa Rican capital to oppose a government bill to eliminate extra salary benefits.

The demonstrators gathered at 11 a.m. at La Hispanidad roundabout in San Pedro, east of the capital, and then rallied some 2 kilometers to Casa Presidencial in the southeastern district of Zapote.

Banners, balloons, flags and bands were used by protesters to prevent the approval of the bill that would cut extra-salary bonuses negotiated decades ago by unions.

Benefits include bonuses that are exclusive to educators, including higher severance pay than most public workers, annuities, extra pay for work outside of the classroom and “exclusivity” pay, which is a salary bonus so that teachers don’t take a second job. These payments, according government officials, “create inequities among public workers.”

The Labor Ministry drafted the bill, known as the “Public Sector Salary Bill,” which was supposed to be discussed with union representatives. But union reps refused to attend a meeting scheduled for Thursday. “We will not discuss any elimination of acquired rights,” said Beatriz Ferreto, president of the High School Teachers’ Association.

“We are here to oppose the approval of a bill that would cut nearly 40 percent of our salaries by eliminating bonuses earned on the streets many years ago, and that will affect employees from the entire public sector,” said Henry Morales, a high school principal.

Union leaders claim tax exemptions to large companies represent 6 percent of the gross domestic product, yet the government insists on blaming teachers’ wage benefits “as responsible for the country’s huge fiscal deficit of 5 percent of the GDP.”

Unions threatened a general strike if the government decides to move forward with the bill in the Legislative Assembly.

Alberto Font and AFP contributed to this story.

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