Dock workers stage the long-expected strike in Limón

The strike that has paralyzed the Limón and Moín docks was threatened for a week by union executives there. And the action by the union was a certainty when the government entered into a contract in March with a Dutch firm to build a $1 billion container port on the Caribbean.

On strike is the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, a public agency. The walkout began Tuesday morning.

The port is the major exit point for Costa Rica’s agricultural products. Between 75 and 80 percent of the nation’s goods move through the port of Moín, which now is staffed by more than 1,000 government employees.

This is the latest chapter in continuing friction between union members, the government and those who need to ship goods.

There have been frequent strikes at both ports, and sometimes there is violence.

In anticipation of the strike, the central government beefed up the police presence in and around the ports. But without workers on the job, containers will not move. The government is expected to go to court to have the strike declared illegal.

The Caribbean ports are notoriously inefficient. It now ranks 132 out of 142 world ports, officials have admitted.

A private company received a concession to take over much of the port at Caldera on the Pacific. That transition went smoothly because workers there received big payoffs and many were hired by the new concession holder.

The new strike is a direct challenge to the central
government which hopes to turn the port work over to APM Terminals. That firm will make all the investments to create a system that will reduce loading and unloading time for ships from five to one day.

The new terminal will have six docks, 13 cranes and the capacity to handle boats with up to 12,000 containers.

The dock workers unions have challenged the port concession contract in court without success.

In March the Contraloría General de la República approved the contract and basically said that the contract is legal and the government has followed all the appropriate steps so far.

The Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A. and the China National Petroleum Corp have a joint venture to construct a $96 million facility nearby to handle tankers.

The port concession is a key element in the central government’s plan for economic development in the province of Limón.

APM runs terminals all over the world. Still ahead for the new terminal is approval of its design and its environmental viability. The government also has to provide a highway to the site and also dredge the harbor.

Some banana growers also tried to derail the project because of the anticipated cost to ship their product.

The new terminal will charge about $46 more per container than the current public docks, according to a government estimate.

The current cost per container is $190.96 while the anticipated cost at the new facility would be $237, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

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