Banana Factory Workers in Costa Rica. Photo: Flickr
Banana Factory Workers in Costa Rica. Photo: Flickr

The laws are there in Costa Rica, but the will is weak, the State of the Nation study indicates, when it comes to workers’ rights. The study found that only 38.8% of workers here get the rights guaranteed by law while the rest — some 107,000 of them — lack at least one or all social guarantees.

For these workers, recognition of pay for extra hours, vacations, sick days, Christmas bonuses, Social Security pension contributions and workers’ workplace accident insurance just doesn’t exist. Foreign workers, youth and handicapped workers are most at risk.

“There are employers who play on one’s necessity (for work) and say they are doing me a favor. Instead one has to resign yourself that they’re not going to pay overtime and Social Security,” Nicaraguan worker Berta Jarquin, 51, told the newspaper La Nacion.

All of the irresponsible employers are in the private sector — the government agencies are scrupulous about paying all benefits the law requires. There are numerous ways in which employers can avoid prosecution for cheating their employees if they find themselves sued — bankruptcy, changing the business documents to make it seem the company has been sold or inventing an excuse.

The slowness of the courts make it tough for a workers to get his rights — a court complaint is followed inevitably by firing and a worker and his family can starve waiting resolution, especially if he has trouble finding a job in this 10% unemployment environment.

Jarquin’s bitter experience in her first job in a Costa Rican home is an apt example chosen by the newspaper. “When one works in a home, and they give you a room to sleep in, you have to keep your mouth shut or they’ll kick you out. You can be a victim of injustice, but hunger will win.”

Nor is the lack of benefits the only thing that Jarquin had to put up with. There was mistreatment, discrimination, deficient pay and the silence she was forced to maintain in the face of a work schedule of 16 or 18 hours straight without extra pay.

Then, there is the case of Roy who could not be identified by the paper. “I haven’t resigned yet so I can’t (speak publicly.) Since September my employers haven’t deposited my salary nor those of other employees. When we ask, they say they’ll solve their problem soon but it’s just talk so far.”

Jarquin eventually did leave the home where she was so miserable and now sells catalogue items. “The situation of sales is more unstable, but that depends on you. At least I’m calmer to know that no one is taking advantage of my need,” she told La Nacion.

But when La Nacion confronted Labor Minister Olman Segura and asked him how to cure this problem, he basically dodged the question. He said that he had only 100 inspectors for 1,200,000 workers, but also denied that hiring more inspectors was an answer. He instead vaguely noted that this is a societal problem and said that “a consciousness” must be created among employers.

But he offered no solution to the problem nor seemed to have hope in passing laws with more teeth in them to force compliance.

Conclusion: It seems that Segura has given up the fight for workers before he started. He obviously just intends to put in his time before May when a new Administration takes over and edges him out of his post. We will hope that a future Labor Minister will get off his plush seat and do something.

Article by iNews.co.cr


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