First major protest of year centers on decreed pay increase

Demonstrating public employees carry a sign that asks for dignity as an ice cream vendor appears to lead the procession. A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

Hundreds of government workers gathered Wednesday in front of the Ministerio de Trabajo to protest a salary increase that workers and union officials repeatedly said was an insult. This was the first major protest of the year for Costa Rica.

More than 20 different unions that represent government workers stood in front of the ministry for hours where they chanted, waved their union flags, made noise, passed out fliers and expressed their opinion toward the 5,000-colons raise, approximately $10.

This is an extra 166 colons a day for a 30-day month, approximately a 33 cent daily increase, one protester noted.

“The 5000 colons is a ridiculous sum! It’s a slap across the face,” said Beatriz Ferreto, spokesperson for Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza, during the rally. “This is just one of many ridiculous things the Chinchilla administration has done.”

A decree established the 5,000-colon monthly raise for all government workers regardless of current salary when negotiations broke down.

During the rally leaders said the wage decree was a result of corruption in the country. José María Villalta Florez-Estrada, sole legislator for the party Frente Amplio, said during a public talk that the workers are paying for corruption.
The protesters demanded change and respect. They said they are treated unfairly by the people who hold higher positions as government employees, such as ministers, lawmakers and the president. They said they are worthy, hard working and deserve respect. One speaker said that they will make the country tremble with what is next, if there is no rapid change.

Carlos Cabezas, spokesperson for Central General de Trabajadores Costa Rica, said that everyone needs to mobilize for their protests to actually work. He said that a representative isn’t enough.

“That isn’t going to work anymore! Every upset individual needs to mobilize for this to have an effect,” said Cabezas.

Speakers also used the space provided to oppose the proposed fiscal plan that is currently being discussed by the legislature. George A. Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, said he approved of the budget plan for Costa Rica, during his visit to the country for a Socialist International meeting. This news infuriated the crowd and some said he was a traitor to the people and that is why Greece is the way it is now.

His approval only strengthened the opposition of the Costa Rican union, said a speaker from Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados.

Many union officials have said they want a tax plan that does not affect the working class but takes more from the wealthy. President Chinchilla proposed a 14 percent value-added tax that will be paid by everyone.

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