Costa Rica: medical workers gain little in strike

After 24 hours of negotiations, the Costa Rican government and all the unions representing medical workers for the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) signed an agreement on July 23 ending a strike that the unions had started four days earlier over economic issues. This was the first major strike to confront President Laura Chinchilla since she took office in May 2010. As in a number of Latin American countries, social security includes medical care in Costa Rica, and the CCSS employs some 48,000 medical workers at 29 hospitals.

The unions’ main demand was for the government to pay off its debt to the CCSS, which the unions say has reached $1.446 billion. The government holds that the number is much lower. In the settlement the government agreed to pay 85 billion colones (about $169 million) for now; the two sides also agreed to set up a joint commission to study the fund’s financial problems. The unions’ other major demand was for CCSS workers to continue getting full credit for sick days in the calculations for their pensions and yearly bonuses. The government wouldn’t back down from its decision to start giving partial credit to CCSS workers, as it does with other workers. The government also held firm on its decision to dock strikers for the four days they were out, although there are to be no other reprisals.

During the strike the government and the unions gave dramatically different accounts of how effective the action was. The CCSS said 5% to 10% of the workers observed the strike call; the unions claimed that while many doctors continued to work, 75% to 80% of the other medical employees had participated in the walkout. (Adital, Brazil, July 20; Prensa Latina, July 201; AFP, July 23, via El Universal, Caracas; La Nación, San José, July 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24.

See our last posts on Costa Rica and the struggle in Central America.