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President Solís lifts veto on Labor Procedures Bill, promises to ban strikes in essential public services

December 12, 2014

President Luis Guillermo Solís announced his decision to lift the veto on the controversial “Reforms of Labor Procedures Bill,” which would extend the right to strike to public-sector workers from hospitals, police and other essential services, during a ceremony at Casa Presidencial Friday morning. Former President Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) had vetoed the bill after lawmakers approved it unanimously in 2012.

But Solís added a caveat to his approval: “An element [of this bill] does not satisfy us nor other groups in our society. I speak of the possibility of strikes in essential services,” he said. The president promised that he would issue a decree banning strikes in essential services and establish action plans to guarantee services would continue without interruption. He urged lawmakers for their cooperation in approving it.

Bill 15,990 will be published into law on Friday in the official government newspaper La Gaceta, but will not take effect until May 2016.

The president defended his decision on the need to update the country’s labor laws, which he called obsolete. Among the new law’s provisions are protections for pregnant women and employees who have filed sexual harassment complaints. The law also prohibits firing someone based on their religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. It also reforms the country’s labor courts with an aim to speed up resolutions.

The decision came a day before the deadline to extend the bill’s period of discussion once again at the Legislative Assembly. Lawmakers from Solís’ Citizen Action Party in recent days sought an agreement to pass a decree that would allow resuming discussions on the bill and eventually include amendments, but the effort failed to garner enough support from other parties.

“I reaffirm my belief in the need for this bill, and I call on the business sector to sit with me soon and discuss any doubts they have,” Solís said in anticipation of criticisms from the private sector, which had been a vocal opponent of the bill.

The president’s announcement generated a flurry of negative reactions from business groups and pro-business lawmakers, who argued that lifting the veto on the bill’s current language would worsen the country’s foreign investment climate. Costa Rica’s Chamber of Commerce President Francisco Llobet said in a statement that “the country’s situation will get worse because the government’s decision will increase instability for the business sector.”

Shortly after the announcement, José Manuel Hernando, president of the Costa Rican Food Industry Chamber, also lamented Solís’ decision.

“Our business sector, mainly composed of micro- and small-sized businesses, can’t understand how the president travels abroad to attract foreign investment but then makes decisions such as this. These contradictions are becoming the hallmark of this administration and are bringing uncertainty to anyone willing to start a business and hire people here, as the national climate for doing business is reaching a breaking point,” he said.

Libertarian Movement Party lawmaker Otto Guevara tweeted that he would file a complaint with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to block the law from implementation. Guevara argued on Twitter that the president’s decree would not stand up to the force of the law and that the move would not block essential services from striking.

Tico Times reporter Zach Dyer contributed to this story.

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