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Lawmakers debate bill to extend the right to strike to most sectors, including private companies

September 16, 2014

Legislators from the ruling Citizen Action Party, Broad Front Party and Social Christian Unity Party last week presented a bill at the Legislative Assembly to reform the country’s Labor Law to include language that would eliminate a ban on strikes in some public services sectors. That ban was approved by the previous administration of President Laura Chinchilla in October 2012.

The essential public services included in the current ban are health care, public security and foreign trade.

Labor Minister Víctor Morales said he would support a bill that legalizes strikes in both public and private sectors, despite criticism by opposition lawmakers and members of the business sector.

If passed, the legislation would grant all public agencies the right to strike as long as workers provide a plan to offer reduced services for citizens. The bill also would allow strikes by private company workers and public agencies that currently have no employee unions, as long as 30 percent or more of employees support demonstrating.

Morales denied that the reforms seek only to promote more protests, saying the “strikes would be a last option after exhausting dialogue and negotiations.”

Lawmakers opposed to the bill say that while the proposal would allow strikes in essential services, it fails to clearly define what those services would be. It also fails to define minimum services, critics argue.

Union of Private-Sector Chambers and Associations (UCCAEP) President Ronald Jiménez called the bill “disastrous” and a “step backwards on labor legislation.” Jiménez also said the minimum 30 percent of private company employees needed to call a strike is “disproportionate.”

Morales said he expects the bill to pass the Assembly, despite two similar pieces of legislation that were filed in response.

Lawmakers from the Libertarian Movement Party and Evangelical parties filed a single bill that would prohibit strikes in essential services, including health care, education, public transportation, public security and docks. It also seeks to set a 50 percent minimum plus one for support among workers from the public sector before a strike is legal.

National Liberation Party (PLN) lawmaker Sandra Pisk presented a similar bill. Pisk, a former ombudswoman and labor minister, also proposed that the Ombudsman’s Office be tasked with representing the public interest during negotiations to end a protest.

“We believe that the differences between the three bills are negotiable. We hope to promote dialogue and approve reform,” the PLN’s top lawmaker, Juan Luis Jiménez Succar, said last week. Business chambers, however, are skeptical, saying the proposed legislation could further weaken the country’s competitiveness and cause a drop in foreign direct investment.

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