The central government and the unions in the national health system are playing a game of chicken.
The unions have announced a work stoppage for today but they have put it off to 8 a.m. instead of the 6 a.m originally planned. The two hours is designed for a last-minute accord.
But it may not work. Unions and government met Monday afternoon in an effort to put off the strike. The talks were moved from one location to another until at 6 p.m. both sides said that no accord was reached.
The Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y el Seguro Social also announced that it has filed a Sala IV case to force the central government to pay the estimated $2 billion it owes for years of back payments on social security charges from public employee pay checks. The was announced by Luis Chavarría, secretary general of the union.
The Unión Médica Nacional, the organization of physicians and surgeons, said it has approved only a 24-hour strike but that its members would attend to emergencies. Still other unions are talking about a prolonged strike.
The unions are trying to hold the high ground by saying they are gong on strike to defend the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Most recognize that their action is unpopular with the public. Even news commentators Monday pointed out that those being hurt will be those who need the medical services.
The central government and President Laura Chinchilla admit that the Caja is owed large sums, but they differ on the total amount.
Wednesday President Laura Chinchilla went on nationwide television Wednesday night to promise that the central government would expedite its payment to shore up the financially faltering Caja. The president said that the central government agreed Wednesday to transfer 85 billion colons, some $169 million to the Caja this year to offset the greater part of the agency’s deficit. But that is not enough to bring the agency to break even.
Added to the mix is a recent internal audit report that disclosed what appeared to be excessive payments for physicians and others.
Estimates say even a one-day strike will delay hundreds of surgeries and thousands of medical appointments and prevent those insured by the Caja from getting prescriptions.