Unions fail to shut down Caja’s public hospitals

Tuesday was a day of protest. In addition to the much publicized strike at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, other unrelated grievances sparked protests.

Some 80 inmates at the Buen Pastor women’s prison in Desamparados protested and burned mattresses because a fellow inmate died, and the unhappy women claimed that the food may have been contaminated. The ill inmate went to Hospital San Juan de Dios Monday and died Tuesday morning. The Ministerio de Salud sent health inspectors to the location.

Rice producers continued protests by blocking the Interamericana Sur and drove at a snail’s pace along Ruta 32, effectively blocking traffic for several miles. Leaders of the Asamblea Nacional de Productores met with Carlos Ricardo Benavides, minister of the Presidencia, during the late afternoon. They promised more protests unless a solution is found to their complains about the price fixed for their product by the economics ministry in February.

A late report said they that had reached agreement with the government to sell their harvest at a slightly better price.

Onion and potato growers in Cartago also were scheduled to stage protests Tuesday.

The headline-grabbing strike was by the unionized employees at the Caja, which runs the hospitals and clinics. Casa Presidencial said that just 11.8 percent of Caja employees actually went on strike, although there was a march through San Jose’s downtown and individuals blocked traffic on the General Cañas highway. Union leaders disagreed and said participation was much more. They issued
a call for non-Caja unions to join the protest Thursday.

The Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social said support was massive but did not provide any figures.

However, most hospitals appeared to be operating normally. At some, the food service, laundry and pharmacies were out of service. The Caja lamented the fact that many persons with appointments stayed away because of the strike.

The government’s argument appeared more persuasive because it was accompanied by a detailed spreadsheet.

The Caja sought to counter the unions’ claim that a strike was in defense of the health services agency by saying that working was showing support. That encouragement was followed by an announcement that strikers would lose their pay, something prior government have not enforced.

Ostensibly the strike was about a restructuring of disability pay and other money issues. The unions also demanded that the central government pay the estimated $2 billion it owes as social security payments. However the work stoppage also can be viewed as a preliminary for 2014 general elections by some of the leftist unions and opposition political parties.

Among other developments Monday, the legislature decided to set up a commission to study the causes and those responsible for the condition of the Caja. The agency is deeply in debt and running a huge deficit. However, there are many reports citing mismanagement and excessive spending by the Caja that make clear why the agency is in the financial shape it is. A check of news files shows that the finances of the Caja were a topic 10 years ago.

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