Caja strikers served with orders involving public health

Striking Caja union members staged another parade and show of force Thursday in the downtown area. Photo: Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Paul Gamboa

The health ministry told striking hospital workers that they had to stop blocking laundry services. That was the major development Thursday as unions of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social completed a third day of a partial strike.

In addition, the acting minister, Ana Morice, ordered the striking union leaders to turn over in six hours a list of all the individuals jeopardizing public health, meaning strikers. She said the Ministerio de Salud would file criminal complaints.

Although the union leaders probably will not comply with the health order, they still could face sanctions for not doing so.

The laundry issue involves the Hospital de Heredia, the Hospital Nacional de Niños, the Hospital Nacional de Geriatría y Gerontología, the Hospital de Las Mujeres, among others. The ministry said that dirty laundry was piling up and that the union leadership should take steps to allow full access to the laundries for those who wish to work. Some laundry areas had been blocked. The order was directed specifically at Luis Chavarría, secretary general of Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja.
Worker support for the strike seems to be declining, in part because the government said it would not pay the strikers.

There also seems to be little support for the strike among the public, based on informal polls done by television and radio stations. Casa Presidencial estimated about 12 percent participation in the strike by Caja workers Tuesday, the first day. Participation has declined.

Still strikers had enough support to conduct another march up Paseo Colón and Avenida Secunda Thursday.

The strike is about disability payments, job security and the fact that the Caja is deeply in the red. The unions want the central government to pay an estimated $2 billion that it owes for social security charges for its employees over the years.

Part of the lack of public support stems from the impossibility of Caja and central government officials from meeting the demands. The disability pay was the object of a Sala IV constitutional court decision, and the central government just does not have that kind of money. It already is expecting a $900 million budget deficit for the first half of the fiscal year.

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