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Cablegate: Costa Rica: Labor Unions Square Off Against the Government

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0110 0271948
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271947Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0284
INFO WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000110

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN
DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ELAB PHUM ECON CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: LABOR UNIONS SQUARE OFF AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT

1. (U) Summary: Union leaders from Costa Rica's largest ports ended
a five-day sit-in at the Ministry of Labor (MOL) headquarters on
January 25 without coming to an agreement over what they see as
government interference in union activities in the potential
concession of the ports. The union, which is being supported by
the major labor confederations in Costa Rica, has told us that they
are now planning to hold a strike at the Limon/Moin ports, though
they have yet to determine when it will begin or if other public
sector unions will go on strike as well. End Summary.

2. (U) The union and the government have long wrangled over the
concession of the poorly-run ports, which union leaders firmly
oppose for fear of the potential layoffs. The government has
offered union members up to $7200 per year for twenty years in
order to agree to the concession, however union leaders have
refused to hold a vote on the subject since February 2009. A
group of 377 of the roughly 1300 union workers voted on the
government buy-out at an independent meeting held on January 15 and
94% voted in favor of the plan. However, the union is protesting
this meeting as illegal as it was not organized by the union (and
in fact union leaders allege it was convened by a government
representative), sets a precedent for government involvement in
union activities, and also only involved roughly a quarter of union
members.

3. (U) On January 20th roughly fifty members of the ports union and
other union confederations began protesting in front of the
Ministry of Labor to call on the Ministry to void the results of
the non-union vote. When the government refused to discount the
vote (stating it had yet to receive a report of it, and would not
rule on it until it had actually reviewed the facts of the vote),
roughly twenty union leaders began a sit-in in the Minster of
Labor's office which continued until January 25. Union leaders
have told us that though they have given up their protest at the
MOL, they now plan to organize a strike at the Limon/Moin ports and
will consider the feasibility of organizing supporting strikes at
other "principle organizations within the country." The union also
says that it is now ready to hold a full assembly of its members to
vote on the concession.

4. (U) In general, the USG views favorably the prospect of a
Limon/Moin ports concession as the port complex has historically
underperformed compared to other ports in the region. Eighty
percent of the country's exports go through these very inefficient
ports which have an average wait time of 42 hours. The two ports
have only one functioning crane and little other equipment. The
ratio of workers to tons of container cargo is significantly lower
than other successful ports in Latin America. The Caribbean ports
desperately need modernization. Few private companies will be
interested in the port concession without a severance agreement
between the port workers and GOCR.

5. (SBU) Comment: The union leadership is dealing with a
fracturing of its membership, and has used every method available
to delay a vote on the concession. President Arias and his
administration are intent on pushing through a ports deal, and have
been frustrated by the union's attempts to block the concession.
Thus the government encouraged the non-union vote (even if they
stopped short of actually organizing it, as the unions allege),
hoping that it would be enough to move forward with the concession.
We expect the government to continue to look for ways to push
through a deal, but it will ultimately respect the confines of what
labor law dictates. In addition to striking, the union could also
challenge the government's actions in the courts-a move which would
undoubtedly delay any possible concession even further.
ANDREW

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