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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Costa Rica

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Costa Rica, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 22 November 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

2010 was a very complicated year for the country. The government sought to remove the recognition of the JAPDEVA Workers' Union (SINTRAJAP) and weaken collective agreements. Pineapple growing communities suffered for their trade union activities. The law does not encourage trade union activity.


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.


Background: Anti-union views have prevailed in Costa Rica's social, political and institutional environment over the last few decades. Although some of the effects of the anti-union persecution that went on under former president Oscar Arias can still be felt, the current government led by Laura Chinchilla has proved more amenable to negotiating with the trade union movement. During 2010, the Rerum Novarum Workers' Confederation (CTRN) played an important role, together with other social partners, in the legislative process for the reform of the Procedural Labour Code, which is still ongoing. It defends rights such as the protection of union officers from dismissal.

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.

Government support for alternative 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. Hence in April a Regulation was passed that grants "solidarismo" that same status as bona fide trade unions. There are only about 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, about 300,000 are in the "solidarismo" system.

Government's blatant interference in SINTRAJAP: The ITUC, its regional organisation TUCA and its affiliates in Costa Rica roundly condemned the attempts by the government and the JAPDEVA port authority to undermine the leadership of the workers' union SINTRAJAP, which was campaigning against the privatisation of the Limón port in the Caribbean.

On 15 January, the JAPDEVA port authority's management held a parallel general assembly in one of the company's storerooms for workers close to the government, in violation of the law and the union's statutes, as well as the principle of trade union independence enshrined in Convention 87. The government appointed a new, illegitimate leadership at SINTRAJAP with the complicity of some parts of the media.

However, Costa Rica's constitutional court ordered the immediate reinstatement of the legitimate leaders of the SINTRAJAP stevedores union, led by Ronaldo Blear, general secretary, who was removed from his post in January. The court also annulled all agreements reached by Douglas Brenes, the representative appointed by the government. On 25 August, the court ordered that the executive board, including the displaced general secretary Ronaldo Blear, be reinstated and declared the collective agreements and other agreements regarding the leasing of the Moín and Limón ports to private owners invalid.

European campaign against pineapples grown in Costa Rica: Communities growing pineapples suffer unacceptable conditions, reveals a study published in November. Consumers International (CI) launched a Europe-wide campaign to expose the complicity of the continents major supermarkets in the unacceptable working and environmental conditions faced by the communities involved in pineapple growing in Costa Rica. Three quarters of pineapples sold in Europe come from Costa Rica. Supermarket chains buy from Del Monte, which exports 50% of Costa Rica's pineapples, and the Acon Group. Complaints were also made about the dismantling of trade unions. One Acon Group worker stated that after the mass dismissals, only those who did not belong to a union remained, and they were kept because they were paid a lower rate for the same work. The violations included not only the dismantling of the trade union by means of dismissing its members and leaders but also poverty wages, exposure to toxic chemicals, dangerous working conditions and water contamination.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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