San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawmakers debate bill to extend the right to strike to most sectors, including private companies

Legislators from the ruling Citizen Action Party, Broad Front Party and Social Christian Unity Party last week presented a bill at the Legislative Assembly to reform the country’s Labor Law to include language that would eliminate a ban on strikes in some public services sectors. That ban was approved by the previous administration of President Laura Chinchilla in October 2012.

The essential public services included in the current ban are health care, public security and foreign trade.

Labor Minister Víctor Morales said he would support a bill that legalizes strikes in both public and private sectors, despite criticism by opposition lawmakers and members of the business sector.

If passed, the legislation would grant all public agencies the right to strike as long as workers provide a plan to offer reduced services for citizens. The bill also would allow strikes by private company workers and public agencies that currently have no employee unions, as long as 30 percent or more of employees support demonstrating.

Morales denied that the reforms seek only to promote more protests, saying the “strikes would be a last option after exhausting dialogue and negotiations.”

Lawmakers opposed to the bill say that while the proposal would allow strikes in essential services, it fails to clearly define what those services would be. It also fails to define minimum services, critics argue.

Union of Private-Sector Chambers and Associations (UCCAEP) President Ronald Jiménez called the bill “disastrous” and a “step backwards on labor legislation.” Jiménez also said the minimum 30 percent of private company employees needed to call a strike is “disproportionate.”

Morales said he expects the bill to pass the Assembly, despite two similar pieces of legislation that were filed in response.

Lawmakers from the Libertarian Movement Party and Evangelical parties filed a single bill that would prohibit strikes in essential services, including health care, education, public transportation, public security and docks. It also seeks to set a 50 percent minimum plus one for support among workers from the public sector before a strike is legal.

National Liberation Party (PLN) lawmaker Sandra Pisk presented a similar bill. Pisk, a former ombudswoman and labor minister, also proposed that the Ombudsman’s Office be tasked with representing the public interest during negotiations to end a protest.

“We believe that the differences between the three bills are negotiable. We hope to promote dialogue and approve reform,” the PLN’s top lawmaker, Juan Luis Jiménez Succar, said last week. Business chambers, however, are skeptical, saying the proposed legislation could further weaken the country’s competitiveness and cause a drop in foreign direct investment.

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Ken Morris

Actually, a bill like this may be a good idea. Employees providing essential public services already stage illegal strikes. A bill that permits the strikes while mandating that the unions make some reasonable effort to continue providing essential services, however they are defined, might improve the situations when they strike–which again, they do anyway.

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If I am wrong, I wish someone would respond to this with the correct information for my education. That is, as I understand from the recent Teacher’s strike over non-pay, if the strike is declared legal, it is with full pay.

If the proposed change in the labor law of Costa Rica retains this feature then it is disastrous.
I am a strong believer in Labor Unions and a past Union leader for the IBEW in the USA, the purpose of a strike is to pressure the Employer, or group of Employers to meet demands.

Going on strike should be the very last action cautiously taken in the process of negotiations.
If the Employees on strike continue to receive full pay the Employer is placed in a tremendous disadvantage. Strikers, those taking the job action and not working, should not receive pay or benefits while on strike. That is the nature of the action: to determine who is willing to suffer most in the demand agreement/disagreement process.

Receiving pay while on strike will only continue the appearance of joy and fun that exists while taking, what should be, drastic; action; action that appears to be taken too often in Costa Rica.

Police and fire are essential services. How does one determine the minimum requirements for these services if a strike occurs? If minimums meet the needs of the public being protected or serviced, then why are there so many additional employed.

Unresolved Police and Fire issues should be presented to a tribunal arbitration panel for final decision. The panel should consist of no-political qualified persons who are not employed in the sector at issue, one selected by each of the parties and the third from a blind selection process. The final judgment should be rendered by a minimum of two thirds of the tribunal.
Changing the law without changing the pay, Fire and Police issues will only haunt Costa Rica for decades.

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