President seeks to make public worker strikes illegal

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Teachers march in 2008 at a time when the dock
workers and some telecom employees were on

The Laura Chinchilla administration is prepared to take on the public employees with a proposal to prohibit strikes.

Casa Presidencial sent such a proposal to the legislature in exchange for a proposed labor code rewrite that would have permitted strikes.

Strikes are common among public employees. Workers at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social are always ready to stage a partial walkout over working conditions.

Dock workers in Moín and Limón have been known to cost exporters of perishable products thousands of dollars with unannounced strikes.

The Chinchilla proposal would prohibit completely strikes at hospitals and clinics, other services of emergency, strikes by workers in electrical and water companies, strikes by all the police forces, strikes by those delivering services to children and the aged, strikes by fire fighters, the Cruz Roja, sanitation workers and those involved in inspection of incoming and outgoing vegetable and animal products.

Employees in other agencies would be allowed to strike as long as that job action would not disrupt services. Casa Presidencial mentioned specifically administrative workers in the health field, courts, workers in child support and domestic violence, workers in food service for children and also those in transportation services.

There is a general clause prohibiting strikes in undefined areas that would hamper socioeconomic development and those that would affect the living conditions of part or all of the population.

Dock strikes are specifically prohibited as well as those by workers who distribute fuel, engage in public transport, provide banking services, deliver passports as well as documents for foreigners and those involved in providing services at the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones. The bill also gives the executive branch the powerto fire strikers or replacement on the job and sets up a speedy legal procedure of just three days for the courts to decide if a strike is legal.

Casa Presidencial did not say it, but there is fear that dock workers at the Caribbean ports will walk out after they have exhausted legal efforts to annul the concession awarded APM Terminals for a $1 billion container handling facility there.

Previous administrations had to send police into the docks to keep them operating when the dock workers union walked out.

Online sources say that just 11 U.S. states allow strikes by public employees. Such an action made the news when Chicago teachers went on strike. Students there missed seven days of school in September. It was the first by teachers in 25 years.

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