Archive photo of May 1 protests
Archive photo of May 1 protests

May 1 is public holiday in Costa Rica as in most of Latin America and Europe. Coinciding with the International Workers’ Day, is also referred to as Labour Day, in some area as “May Day”.

In Costa Rica, every May labour unions and union workers take to the streets in protest. Among the various issues on the protest table this year is the situation thousands of teachers are living through, poor pay practices by the Ministerio de Educación Pública (MEP) – Education Ministry.

“At the beginning of each school year the pay problems are historical, but this year its disastrous. Many (teachers) have gone three months without a salary…”, said Carmen Brenes, of the Asociación Nacional de Educadores (ANDE), Costa Rica’s largest teachers union. The other teachers unions, theSindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación Costarricense (SEC), the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza (APSE) and the Asociación de Nacional Empleados Públicos y Privados, have similar claims.

Taking to the streets today alongside teachers are other public and private union workers protesting their own individual issues.

Every four years, May 1 is also the day that a new Legislative Assembly is sworn in, members elected in the presidential election process on the first week in February.

The new legislators take part in an official ceremony, with the first item on the agenda the election of a Legislative President. This election is of importance as it will set the tone for control of the legislative process for the coming year. Every May 1 a new president is elected or the current re-elected, as may be the case.

Typically the ruling party – that is the party with the majority, 29 of the 57 legislative seats, elects a president from their rank and file. This year, however, the situation is different. The Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN) is the party with the largest block of seats, but not enough to form a majority. Also, the PLN did not win the presidential election to form a government.

This has left President-elect Luis Guillermo Solís of the Partido Accion Cuidadana, who did win the election in a run-off vote on April 6, to form alliances with other parties to elect a PAC legislator as president of Congress.

Important to note about the election of the President of the Legislative Assembly is that, according to Costa Rica’s political constitution, if the President, the first vice-president and the second vice-president are incapacitated, next in line for the presidency is the president of the Legislature.

Part of the May 1 activities is the President’s report to the nation. Every May 1, the President presents its report to the Legislative Assembly. This year it will be last for Presidenta Laura Chinchilla as she readies to hand over the power of the presidency to the new president on May 8.

Banks are closed. All government offices and agencies are closed. Most professional offices (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc) are closed, best is to call ahead if you had an appointment for today.  Most private business also shut down for today.

What is open, though it is subject to individual business operations, are the tourism sector – tours, hotels, airports, etc – and retail stores.

For those who have to work today, it is a “pago obligatorio”, meaning double pay. For the rest of us, it is day off from the daily grind. And for the few who have or can take Friday off and don’t normally work on Saturday, this is an extra long weekend.