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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Costa Rica

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Costa Rica, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
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 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The outlook for trade unions continues to deteriorate. The fundamental right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements is under serious threat. On 25 March, President Óscar Arias paid tribute to Alberto Martén, the father of solidarismo, and announced plans to give the movement constitutional ranking. Solidarismo is a Costa Rican movement with a clientalist and paternalistic approach to collective bargaining. It constitutes a permanent obstacle to the formation of genuine, free and independent trade union organisations. The legislation does not encourage trade union activities.

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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The government launched the Escudo Plan, which includes a number of measures to increase labour flexibility, to tackle the economic crisis. According to the unions, the plan places the burden of the economic crisis on the backs of workers. José Antonio Barquero, president of the national teachers' union, Asociación Nacional de Educadores (ANDE), described the plan as an attack on the working class, asserting that the economy cannot be stimulated by cutting wages.

Anti-union strategies, freedom to dismiss workers, and labour flexibility: Trade unions have long been complaining that private sector employers refuse to recognise them and dismiss workers who try to join a trade union. Legally recognised freedom of dismissal facilitates these anti-union strategies and is becoming the main barrier to the formation of new trade unions in the private sector, as any attempt to organise carries the risk of instant dismissal. Similarly, "flexible" contracts also succeed in blocking any attempt to organise.

Complicit public authorities and slow and inefficient procedures: Although illegal, anti-union practices are usually tolerated by the authorities, and the sanctions are too mild to be dissuasive. Given the complexity of the procedures, securing the reinstatement of workers who have been unfairly dismissed takes an average of three years, which is long enough to do away with a trade union. The National Labour Inspectorate (DNIT) usually takes longer than the maximum two-month period foreseen by the Constitutional Court to certify that a violation has taken place. When a case does go to trial, it can take several years to reach a verdict.

Collective bargaining virtually non-existent in the private sector: Collective bargaining has been reduced to a bare minimum in the private sector. Instead of collective agreements, there are many "direct arrangements" with non-unionised workers who are grouped together in "permanent workers' committees". The legislation allows for the creation of such committees provided there is a minimum of three workers, whereas for a union to be recognised as a bargaining unit, it must have a minimum of 12 workers and represent at least one third of employees. The unions are critical of the fact that, in most cases, these "direct arrangements" are promoted by employers and the Labour Ministry to prevent the formation of unions and encourage solidarismo.

Export processing zones (EPZs) without unions: The few unionised workers there are in EPZs face harassment and unfair dismissal. The number of labour inspectors remains far too low to deal with the amount of unfair dismissals among this large segment of the workforce. Organising is virtually non-existent in the zones.

Trade union persecution: On 30 January, the executive board of the National Insurance Institute (INS) ordered the dismissal of Luis Salas Sarkis, general secretary of the INS staff union, Unión del Personal del INS (UPINS). Salas is also the general secretary of the general workers' centre, Central General de Trabajadores (CGT). He was dismissed in retaliation for his unswerving fight against the free trade agreement with the United States, the opening up and privatisation of the insurance market, and in favour of social security, collective agreements, and the labour rights of INS workers.

Del Monte supplier harasses trade union members: Members of the agricultural workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores Agrícolas, Ganaderos y Anexos de Heredia (SITAGAH), at Piñales de Santa Clara S.A, a company supplying fruit multinational Del Monte, find themselves under constant attack, facing fire from all sides, including heavy pressure on pay and working conditions, mass lay-offs in 2008 and January 2009, and a range of strategies to discredit unions, such as the showing of anti-union videos.

Dismissals at security consortium for forming union: In May, several private security guards working for Consorcio de Información y Seguridad, tired of seeing their rights being constantly violated, decided to set up a union under the tutelage of the national association of public and private employees, Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados (ANEP). Despite following all the procedures to register the union in accordance with the legislation in force, the company, showing total disregard for these provisions, proceeded to dismiss the promoters of the union, on the pretext of "staff restructuring". All of those laid off were members of the recently formed trade union, including four members of its executive.

Trade union rights systematically undermined: The effective exercise of trade union rights is, in practice, fraught with obstacles. In the private sector, unions are practically non-existent, owing to a wanton combination of anti-union strategies, government indifference and the promotion of solidarismo associations (employer-backed associations that act as a barrier to the formation of trade unions within companies), compounded by persistent anti-unionism in the media. The Ministry of Labour receives constant complaints regarding anti-union harassment. In the public sector, unions are confronted with relentless attempts by the government, employers and the media to strip them of any legitimacy.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MTSS) has no mechanism to promote the right to freedom of association. On the contrary, the MTSS promotes an "alternative" to trade unions, limiting the authority and autonomy of workers and undermining internationally recognised trade union instruments such as the right to strike and collective bargaining.

Social protest criminalised: The leaders of the general workers' centre, Central General de Trabajadores (CGT), denounced the judicial proceedings initiated against Trino Barrantes, a CGT leader and the general secretary of the university workers' union, Sindicato de Empleados de la Universidad de Costa Rica (SINDEU), for having taken part in the mass demonstrations in the city of San Ramón against the private monopoly held by the Spanish company RITEVE SC on the technical inspection of vehicles.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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