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Public workers threaten general strike if lawmakers approve bill reducing pay

August 21, 2015

The public employees’ march that closed off streets and snarled traffic in San José Thursday ended with a promise from union leaders to stage a nationwide strike if the government moves forward with a plan to reduce their bonuses and benefits.

The “Public Employment Law” under discussion in the Legislative Assembly proposes to eliminate incentives and bonuses for public workers and standardize salaries.

After marching down Second Avenue, protestors gathered in front of the Legislative Assembly where they met with Broad Front Party lawmakers Jorge Arguedas and Ligia Fallas.

Unions leaders delivered Arguedas and Fallas a petition signed by members of the Bloque Unitario Sindical y Social Costarricense, which brings together workers from 80 unions who oppose the government’s plan to cut their incentives and bonuses.

Gilberto Cascante, president of the National Association of Educators, and Luis Chavarría, secretary general of the Social Security System worker’s union, said that next week they will meet with other union leaders to agree on future actions against what they call “the decisions of a neoliberal regime.”

Both of them called on workers to join a general strike in late September or early October to continue opposing the adoption of the Public Employment Law. The bill would eliminate benefits public agencies offer to their employees, including yearly bonuses, extra pay for enrolling in educational courses and premium pay for the birth of a child or for showing up on time.

Some of these perks are offered to most public employees, while others are negotiated with individual labor unions.

Public employees also protested against a Finance Minister bill to amend the income tax law and transform the sales tax into a value added tax. The reforms would increase taxes and expand the number of products and services taxed.

Unions say the reforms would mostly affect the poor and working-class citizens. The government says the reforms mostly aim at improving tax collection and controls over tax dodgers.

The group of protestors Thursday extended some five blocks along Second Avenue. Most were public school teachers and employees from the Social Security System. Dozens of schools were closed and various services at public hospitals were shut down, including some operating rooms at San Juan de Dios and Calderón Guardia hospitals, while nurses marched. Those medical centers reported that 25 surgeries were suspended and almost 100 patients had to reschedule their appointments.

President Luis Guillermo Solís was out of the capital most of the day and even traveled in a helicopter to avoid road blockades. At a public event in Naranjo, west of Alajuela, Solís criticized the protests and said the government has always had its doors open for dialogue with all sectors.

“The Executive [Branch] is completely willing to hear unions’ petitions and to provide responses to their concerns,” Solís said.

Porteadores protested without their cars

Groups of private chauffeurs, or porteadores, from all provinces also demonstrated on Thursday in the capital against a new regulation that eliminated half of their permits. Unlike protests in previous weeks, the porteadores didn’t block roads this time, but rather left their vehicles at home and protested on foot in front of an administrative court in Guadalupe, northeast of San José, wearing white shirts and holding flags.

The group’s leader Byron Marcos said Administrative Judge Juan Luis Justin explained to them how to appeal the permit decision, which they plan to do in coming days.

“We are not illegal,” Marcos told porteadores in front of the court. “If this court says we are, then we will respect that, but otherwise we will continue our fight.”

The private drivers also are demanding to speak directly with President Solís, saying they will no longer negotiate with transportation officials.

A group of informal taxi drivers, or piratas also joined the porteadores’ demonstration in Guadalupe.

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