Education Minister Sonia Marta Mora on Wednesday evening said the government will no longer negotiate with unions until teachers return to the classrooms.
“You must return to work,” Marta said, addressing an ongoing teachers’ strike that has lasted just short of four weeks. “We will now deduct wages from those who fail to do so, starting on Monday.”
The minister spoke at a press conference at Casa Presidencial along with Labor Minister Víctor Morales, who did not respond when asked about the possibility of declaring the strike illegal, a necessary step in order for the administration to deduct wages.
Mora’s remarks followed yet another failed attempt by the government of President Luis Guillermo Solís, who took office on May 8, to negotiate an end to the strike, which was prompted by a backlog of teachers’ pay for several months. Teachers began the nationwide strike on May 5.
The latest meeting between administration officials and union leaders was held Tuesday, and lasted 11 hours into early Wednesday. An agreement that came out of that meeting was presented Wednesday morning to teachers from all seven provinces, who voted to reject the proposal. On Thursday, Radio ADN reported that some union leaders knew teachers would reject the agreement even before it was presented.
Teachers cited the lack of a deadline for Education Ministry (MEP) officials to settle all back pay pay, and they were skeptical about the government’s proposed payment procedures.
Mora added that Thursday and Friday will be the last days for teachers to file complaints about salary errors, and sanctions would be handed out starting Monday to those who continued striking.
Ana Doris González, president of the High School Teachers Association, responded to the minister’s comments by saying that “teachers will not return to work until all back pay is issued.”
Mora said she was surprised by the teachers’ vote to reject the proposal, which was the result of a compromise between unions and the Solís administration.
Gilberto Cascante, president of the National Association of Educators, asked members in a public statement “to stand firm and not be intimidated by government repression.”
On Thursday morning, Solís said “the continuation or worsening of the strike is not the government’s responsibility, and we will not tolerate it anymore. We have the responsibility to maintain labor conditions for teachers, but we also must protect the students’ rights.”
Solís said he is aware that many educators have returned to work, and he believes union leaders have an agenda that includes stirring up trouble in the streets.
At noon on Thursday, union leaders used social media to call a meeting on Saturday at 9 a.m. to determine further action.