As the strike by Costa Rica’s on strike, now in its seventh week, and given the failure of the administration of Carlos Alvarado to end the strike, a group of 31 legislators have signed a bill to dock wages for employees on strikes deemed illegal.

Carlos Benavides (in red tie), leader of the PLN legislative caucus

The leader of the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) legislative bench, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, presented on Thursday a bill to facilitate the application of sanctions to people who participate in illegal strikes, as well as those who commit abuses such as blocking roads or sabotage public facilities.

The initiative was signed by legislators of the PLN, Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC), the Partido Republicano Social Cristiano (PRSC) and independents Erick Rodríguez, Jonathan Prendas and Ivonne Acuña (the latter two with the Partido National Restoration until earlier this week).

The current legislation allows the application of dismissals and administrative sanctions to employees who participate in illegal strikes. However, Labor Court judges have said that wage cuts, for example, can only be applied once the strike is declared illegal and if the strikers do not return to work within 24 hours.

This happened, for example, in the Municipality of Santa Ana. Although the strike began on September 10 and the strike was declared illegal on October 16, the city council could not dock the wages of the strikers for the 37 days they did not work,  since the workers returned to their jobs within the 24 hours.

Labor judges argued that articles 379 and 385 of the Código Procesal Laboral (Labor Procedure Code) prevent retroactive deductions.

The Benavides bill proposes that dismissals be for those who do not return to their positions and administrative sanctions after an illegal strike is declared firm by the courts, and that the reduction of wages is calculated from the moment the employer files the court action to have the strike declared illegal, which as we have learned during this strike, can take weeks.

For example, in the current strike, of the 32 filings for illegality, more than a dozen still remain without a resolution.

The bill also establishes sanctions for behaviors that are not currently provided for in the Labor Procedure Code.

For example, it introduces as a cause of sanction to trade union organizations who incite their members to commit acts contrary to the law, such as “the sabotage of public goods or the blockades on highways”.

Benavides explained the labor courts could also order the dissolution of unions without verifying that they incited or organized such acts.

“There has been a complete disappointment with the strikes that have happened in the last weeks or months,” he said.

These are some of the reforms proposed by the Benavides initiative:

  • The unions are obliged to inform the Judiciary and the Ministry of Labor of an email to receive notifications.
  • The reduction of wages for time not worked, in case of strikes declared illegal, will be retroactive to the request of the declaration of illegality by the employer.
  • Establish that the notification of the declaration of illegality will be made by the electronic means registered before the Judicial Power.
  • The term to appeal a declaration of illegality of a strike in essential services will be 48 hours and the resolution must be issued in three calendar days.
  • The Labor Courts may order the dissolution of unions if it is proved in court that they organized or incited their members to block streets or sabotage public property, as well as carry out any illegal criminal conduct.
  • The strike in essential services is illegal and does not require the qualification process foreseen in the Labor Code. The employer can ask the Labor Court of San Jose to issue an order to workers to return to work immediately.
  • If employer and employees can not reach an agreement eight days after a strike has been declared legal, the employer may request the judge to suspend the strike if it is proven that the damage is difficult or impossible to repair.

One of the main reasons strikes in Costa Rica can last is the current legislation does not include the mechanism for expeditious notifications.

The example is in the case of the teachers on strike, perhaps the largest block of the public sector striking against the government’s tax reforms. Though the strike has been declared illegal, the notification and appeals process that will take weeks means striking teachers can continue to picket and even take vacations (as some have been confirmed to have done), collect their paycheck on the 15th and 30th as usual and then for those who do head back to work within the 24 hours established by the Labor Courts, all is back to normal. No wages docked, no reprisals of dismissals


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