President gives ground in salary talks with public employees

President Laura Chinchilla appears to have compromised with her hard line on public employee salaries. Labor leaders met with her for six hours Monday. The president was trying to deflect the threat of a general strike.

Among other stipulations was that the central government would not penalize protesters who march last Wednesday and skipped work, according to a draft of an agreement. A teacher union representative estimated that there were 25,000 persons in the protest. Other estimates were lower, but reporters found some school children were sent home because teachers did not show up.

The draft accord made public after the meeting contains some concessions by the central government. One demand that was not addressed in the accord was the one that Ms. Chinchilla shelve her proposed new taxes. That was not mentioned in the draft.

The draft of the accord did address four demands.

The government agreed to establish a working group made up of officials and labor leaders to reach an agreement in a week on salary increases. During that time a presidential decree over salaries will be suspended.

The draft promises some type of adjustment in the second half of 2012 based on the union demands to respect an agreement reached in 2007. That agreement promised at least a 1.9 percent salary increase and the incorporation of inflation percentages in any salary negotiation.
The government also agreed to set up a committee to develop a salary policy for public employees. The discussions would be based on the current state of salaries as defined by the International Labor Organization, the draft said.

Labor leaders also demanded that the government not present any proposed laws on public employees without their knowledge and discussions. The government said that with the agreement for a committee to discuss public employee salaries, this demand was moot.

The agreement was signed by the minister of Trabajo, Sandra Piszk and a labor representative. Union leaders will take the draft back to their members for discussion, said a statement.

Before the meeting with Ms. Chinchilla, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados said it was seeking a 4 percent salary increase.

Ms. Chinchilla issued a decree stipulating a 5,000-colon raise for all public employees except top officials, who would get nothing additional. That’s about $10.

This was the decree that enraged the public employees even though salary negotiations were deadlocked.

The Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza was the primary force behind two protests. The biggest was Wednesday when union members marched from downtown San José to Casa Presidencial in Zapote.

Ms. Chinchilla has said that any pay raises would have to be with borrowed money.

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