In his first national televised address Sunday night, President Luis Guillermo Solís asked public school teachers to end a two-week strike and return to the classrooms, despite a failure to reach agreement on when teachers would receive their back pay.
In a seven-minute speech, Solís cited efforts his administration, which took office May 8, has made to resolve a salary backlog that has affected thousands of public school teachers since February. Solís noted that the problem originated under the previous administration of President Laura Chinchilla and her education minister, Leonardo Garnier.
Responding to criticisms that Garnier seems more focused on football than addressing the problems created under his administration of the ministry, the former education minister tweeted, “Nothing would please me more than to be able to go to the Legislative Assembly and explain the case of the change in payment system at MEP.”
Nada me gustaría más que poder ir a la Asamblea Legislativa y dar las explicaciones del caso por cambio del sistema de pagos del MEP
— Leonardo Garnier (@leogarnier) May 15, 2014
The president ruled out a union request for an initial disbursement on May 23, saying it would be “technically impossible” and could jeopardize salary payments for all other public-sector workers. On Saturday, Solís had offered to make the first of two payments on May 26. Unions rejected that offer.
According to current Education Minister Sonia Mora, more than 13,600 educators are owed back pay, double the number that Garnier had initially claimed.
Solís said the ongoing strike has jeopardized the education of nearly one million public school students, and he noted that 675,000 children depend on daily meals provided at public schools.
The president also asked officials from the judicial branch and the public banking system to go easy on teachers, many of whom are facing legal problems stemming from loan defaults and unpaid child support, a result of the payment crisis.
Solís said the administration would not punish striking teachers or garnish their wages for days missed since the nationwide strike began on May 5.
Minutes after the president’s address, the National Association of Educators (ANDE) called on educators to ignore the president and continue protesting this week.
At 10 a.m. on Monday, hundreds of teachers gathered in front of the capital’s Central Park and marched two blocks east to the Finance Ministry.
ANDE President Gilberto Montero also took to Facebook to claim the government’s proposals fail to solve their problems, as they do not provide payments for wages from February and March.
Diana Herrero, a teacher and union leader at the Abelardo Bonilla High School, on Monday called Solís speech “a threat” in an article on online magazine Paquidermo, adding that teachers would remain on strike until all back pay is dispersed.
ANEP leaders called for educators to attend a meeting on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Napoleón Quesada School, next to Casa Presidencial in Zapote, where they will discuss their next steps.