Today is a deadline for paying workers Christmas aguinaldo

Today is the last day for employers to pay their staffs the 2011 aguinaldo. This is the legally mandated 13th month of salary.

Although some struggling employers will drag out the payments, employees have the right to complain to the labor ministry, which will open a file and hound the employer. Eventually legal action may be forthcoming.

The amount is one of the easiest sums to figure in Costa Rica. Employers simply add up salaries from December 2010 until the end of November 2011 and divide by 12. For domestic help who receive payment in kind, the aguinaldo is supposed to reflect the non-cash payments, like food and housing. The Ministerio de Trabajo is the place for employees to complain, but workers there also are prepared to help employers who have questions.

Workers who left the job earlier in the year were supposed to have been paid their aguinaldo, vacation and other mandated amounts then. Aguinaldos and vacation pay are benefits that even workers who are fired for cause receive.

Costa Ricans live for the aguinaldo. Many work for minimum wage, and the Christmas bonus gives them a little extra to make needed purchases as well as enjoy the holiday.

A reporter asked a handful of Costa Ricans what plans they had for their Christmas windfall.

What follows are the responses:

Carlos Luis Solano Villalta, 55,
San José Municipal employee

They already gave me my aguinaldo, and I already spent all of it. They gave me 400,000 colons and I paid to have a new septic tank installed. I spent 200,000 on the manual labor and the rest on materials. It was a necessity and a good investment. It will last me 20 years or more. I’ve been waiting for my aguinaldo to buy this septic system.

Rafael Morales, 48,
construction supervisor

I’m going to be hung over. I will have a big Christmas party with lots of Imperial beer, pork and tamales, the typical Christmas food in Costa Rica. I’m going to invite all my friends and family to come.

Edwin Hernandez, 51,
van driver for Sportsmen’s Lodge

I am going to buy presents for my kids and my family, things such as clothes, shirts, jeans, shoes, all useful stuff. My kids are older so I don’t need to buy them toys anymore. I will also buy food for Christmas dinner, although I may have to work on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25 because it is a popular time for tourists to travel. But this year tourism is down.

Jairo Bermudez, 24,
Fuerza Pública police officer

I bought clothes for myself and my family. I have to work during Christmas, so I can’t spend the whole day with my family but I bought my kids presents, little toy cars to play with. I also bought other presents for my family members.

Carolina Arias Hernandez, 19,
student, bartender and waitress

I didn’t save any of it. I bought some toys, a water gun and some clothes. I also helped pay a dentist bill for my dad. My aguinaldo wasn’t that big because for waitresses the 10 percent service charge does not count, only the hourly wages. I didn’t save any of it.

Edine von Herold Duarte, 57, pediatrician and former legislator

I’m going to change the money into dollars and save it for my son. He’s studying medicine right now, and I want him to have an opportunity to study for a practicum rotation at Harvard after he graduates. But it will be expensive. I have to save this one and my next one and spend all my money.

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