In less than a week, Costa Rica’s trade unions (sindicatos in Spanish) suffered an abrupt cut in power with the approval in first debate on Tuesday of the bill to curtail strikes.

Caja employees threaten more strikes to defend their bonuses

However, they threaten further protests to try to defend their right to strike at will and their bonuses; expecting the Constitutional Court to prove them right in the different issues raised with the law.

Then, on Thursday, the Comptroller General delivered another blow, ordering the Board of Directors of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), to rescind the contract signed by the executive president of the CCSS with the unions, to the end the strike in August, allowing the 57,000 public health employees to keep their bonuses contrary to the Fiscal Reform that went into effect in December 2018.

Comptroller’s order also put the brakes on the CCSS going to the legal route to determine whether or not the incentives demanded by employees can be paid.

The Fiscal Reform caps bonuses to a fixed amount, the deal the unions got with the CCSS to end the strike, allowed employees to keep bonuses based on a percentage, as it was before the tax reform law went into effect.

While the legislature waits out the time for the Constitutional Court to render its opinion on the ‘strike law’, the unions are taking the opportunity to flex their muscles.

The first is the UNDECA union representing a large number of CCSS workers, whom on Friday were evaluating a new strike, regardless of how this will further affect users.

“You will see a strong and forceful reaction from thousands of workers to defend the (CCSS) agreement that already has two agreements signed by the Government,” said Luis Chavarría, general secretary of the UNDECA union. 

Given that the Comptroller’s decision could be applied to other institutions that are rebellious of the Fiscal reform and the tax rules, we could possibly see employees of universities, the judiciary and municipalities, among others, follow the CCSS workers, and call strikes of their own.

At stake here, for the unions, is the right to hold ransom the public through “blackmail and abuse” by public sector employees who, under the current law, can at will create a situation that includes a work stoppage and with no cost to them.

The new law, if and when it goes into effect, will change all that.

Sanctions for striking workers include cuts in pay since the strike involves a labor contract, employers are not obliged to pay for the day the employee does not work.

Other objectives of the new law is to eliminate strikes in essential services, curtails strike by teachers to a maximum of 21 days and ‘political strikes’ to 48 hours.

The Constitutional Court has up to 30 days to give its opinion.

There is a lot riding on this for all: the unions, the government and well, everyone.