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Labor Ministry pledges probe of bus companies

September 18, 2009

Costa Rica´s Labor Ministry will launch an investigation into COESA, a San José bus company known to work its drivers up to 18 hours daily, following a report on the issue by The Tico Times (TT, Sept. 11).

Labor authorities this week said they are prioritizing the investigation as urgent, acknowledging that the bus company´s actions have been dangerous and illegal.

Evidence was presented to Carlos Sánchez, a Labor Ministry adviser, in the form of a report and a pay slip belonging to one of COESA´s drivers. The pay slip revealed a starting time of 5:30 a.m. and an ending time of 10:43 p.m.

The country´s labor law states that a bus driver´s working day must not exceed 12 hours, including overtime.

“In the last three years there have been great efforts made to investigate companies suspected of breaching the labor laws, and the truth is that there have been many cases of transport companies under investigation,” Sánchez said.

“I have notified the coordinator responsible for organizing inspections in the central region of San José and explained that this is an urgent matter. Exactly how long this will take, I am unable to say because there are many facets of the process, but it is now a priority,” he said.

Sánchez added that he expects inspectors will visit the company to interview its staff and inspect its salary books, saying, “Should any evidence of wrongdoing be found, (the inspectors will) issue a notice period of up to one month to fix the problems. An inspector will then revisit the company to make sure it has complied. If not, the company will be taken to court where it can face heavy fines and, in very serious cases, closure.”

Approximately 30 inspections have been made at transport companies within San José and Heredia during the past two years, according to Sánchez. Of the 30 companies suspected of flouting the labor laws, he said, 50 percent were taken to court after failing to make the required changes.

“It is often the case that companies ignore the guidelines we issue to them, preferring to pay the fine and continue on as before,” Sánchez added.

COESA, a three-company consortium operating a fleet of 133 buses along 17 routes in the San José area, refused to comment on the latest development.

According to bus drivers from other city bus companies, all of whom earn approximately ¢ 8,766 per regular eight-hour shift, the 18-hour shift with just one-hour daily breaks is nothing unusual. In fact, they agreed, it is commonplace.

A bus driver from the Transplusa bus company said, “I work 18 hours a day, six days a week. I know that the law says you shouldn´t. But, if I don´t, I won´t earn enough.”

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