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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Costa Rica

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Costa Rica, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8895726.html [accessed 19 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4,600,000
Capital: San José

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 20

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The country continues to be blighted by slow and inefficient legal procedures when dealing with anti-union actions. The restrictions remain on the right to collective bargaining in the public sector and there is a serious imbalance in the private sector between the very low number of collective agreements signed with trade union organisations and the number of direct arrangements with non-unionised workers.

Background

Costa Rica's recent history has led the country to develop very close links with the U.S. economy, despite the wishes of the majority, which successive governments have disregarded. The policies being pursued by the current government led by President Laura Chinchilla would appear to be oblivious or indifferent to the risks this entails, and is leaving the market economy to steer the life of the country, turning a deaf ear to the alerts raised by social leaders and experts regarding the urgent need for protective measures and policies.

Rising social discontent over policies attacking the health and social security system, plus the lack of dialogue to produce negotiated solutions, led the Federación de Organizaciones de la Caja y la Seguridad Social (FOCASS) to hold a protest march in June to put pressure on the President of the Republic and the authorities governing the institution. The demonstration was calling for the Finance Ministry to make an immediate payment to the institution of 15% of the profits from public companies, in line with the study presented by the body. It also requested that a bill be introduced to remove the executive presidencies and restore autonomy to the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS). The action was, in addition, aimed at protecting the thousands of jobs being threatened by the attempts to restructure the institution and the social security system. Over 6,000 workers from the CCSS took to the streets of the capital to demonstrate in support of the demands.

Trade union rights in law

Problematic areas exist in the law despite basic trade union rights being guaranteed. Workers have the right to join the union of their choosing without prior authorisation. However, there is no deadline for the administrative authority to decide on the registration of unions. Foreigners are not allowed to hold office or positions of authority in trade unions, and the law obliges the union's general assembly to nominate its leadership each year. While anti-union actions are prohibited, the sanctions and redress procedures are slow and inefficient, and it can take four years to obtain a clear ruling.

The right to collective bargaining is recognised in the Constitution, but employers are also allowed to conclude direct agreements with non-unionised workers, even in places where a trade union organisation exists. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has, following complaints issued by the public authorities or a political party, declared many clauses of collective agreements in the public sector to be unconstitutional.

Finally, to hold a lawful strike, at least 60% of the people working in the establishment must approve of the action. The list of essential services exceeds the ILO definition.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Trade union rights not respected in practice:

The ILO's supervisory bodies have repeatedly pointed out the slowness and inefficiency of the procedures to sanction and redress anti-trade union actions, the cancellation of clauses in some collective agreements and the serious imbalance between the number of collective agreements and "direct arrangements" with non-unionised workers.

It is almost impossible to form and run trade unions in the private sector, owing to the combined effect of the promotion of "solidarismo" and employer opposition. Employers sometimes use methods that go against both the law and moral standards in order to discourage the formation of new trade unions or destroy existing ones. The Rerum Novarum Workers' Confederation (CTRN) reported that the ANFO company refused to recognise the SITRAPECORI union. Workers at the Chiriquí Land Company also faced difficulties in negotiating collective agreements.

Obstacles to organising in the private sector: It is almost impossible to form and operate trade unions in the private sector, owing to the combined effect of employer opposition and company-sponsored "solidarismo". Employers sometimes use methods that go against both the law and moral standards in order to discourage the formation of new trade unions or destroy existing ones.

Violations

Government supports "solidarista" organisations that violate trade union rights: Although the government maintains that only collective bargaining has constitutional status, in practice it supports organisations set up as an alternative to trade unions. In April 2010, moreover, a regulation was passed granting "solidarista" organisations the same status as bona fide trade unions. There are only around 13 collective agreements in the country, while more than 74 direct arrangements have been signed. This has led to a fall in trade union membership, with less than 3% of workers belonging to a union. In contrast, some 300,000 workers come under the company-sponsored "solidarista" system.

Banana workers take action: Banana workers rallied to fight for trade union organisations and collective bargaining to be recognised rather than "solidarista" associations, as well as for due compensation in the event of dismissal. The agricultural workers' union publicly condemned fruit company BANACOL for refusing to accept the decision of the court of second instance, ordering it to compensate the workers that had been unfairly dismissed.

Employers respond violently to banana workers' peaceful strike action:

On 25 November, workers at Fincas 1, 2, and 3 of the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola Del Monte, in Sixaola, Limón, held a meeting regarding the strike called to consolidate the development of the union and collective bargaining. The strike, which was supported by 90% of the workers employed on these estates, was carried out in a peaceful manner.

The workers, who had been on strike for over 14 days, were threatened, humiliated and attacked by the company managers who, as well as not paying their wages (in a clear breach of the law), ordered all credit to be cut off at the Solidarista Association. They also closed the canteen that provides them with food and spread rumours that dismissals were going to be made so that the local businesses would not give the strikers credit. The company hired strike breakers to cut and prepare the bananas for packing. The local school refused to feed the strikers' children.

After a 22 day strike involving over 600 workers, most of whom are Guaymi indigenous people and Nicaraguan migrants, the action came to a successful end, demonstrating that the Permanent Workers' Committee and the infamous "direct arrangements" used by the management to avoid unionisation and collective agreements do not have the workers' support.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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