On August 5, more than 58,000 public health care workers across Costa Rican began a 48-hours general strike in defense of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS or CAJA), their salaries and against the privatization of public health care services in the country.
During the first day of the strike, services were paralyzed at about 80% of the hospitals nationwide. While hundreds of health care professionals staged several demonstrations outside a number of hospitals, clinics and health care centers throughout the country.
The strike was called for by the Trade Union Front for the defense of the CCSS, a platform of over 17 national health care trade unions including the National Medical Union, the National Trade Union of Health-Care Services, the National Trade Union of the CAJA and Social Security Employees (UNDECA), the National Trade Union of Specialized Doctors (SINAME), the National Trade Union of Nursing (SINAE), the National Association of Nursing Professionals (ANPE), the Trade Union of Medical Science Professionals (SIPROCIMECA), the Trade Union of CAJA Pharmacy Workers, and several others,
The health care professionals are protesting against a tax reform approved last year by the government of President Carlos Alvarado, which seeks to reduce funding to state health care services and eventually privatize it. In addition, it eliminates salary increases and reduces annuities.
Presently, the CCSS pays 5.5% annuities on salary to medical professionals, 3.5% to nurses and nutritionists and 3% to non-professional workers. The new tax reform establishes that the entire public sector professionals will be paid 1.94% annuities and non-professional staff will be paid 2.56%.
Through an official statement, the National Trade Union of the CAJA and Social Security Employees (UNDECA) and the Trade Union Front explained that the objective of the strike is “to enforce the agreements signed by the CCSS authorities and workers’ representatives to guarantee labor rights, demand the non-implementation of the Tax Reform and the reduction of budgets that will affect the patients and insured individuals care services”.
The statement also demanded the settlement of the debt owned by the CCSS to the government of 1.5 billion colons (about 2.6 million USD) and that of the large entrepreneurs of 260 billion colons (about 460 million USD).
A day before the strike, government officials and CCSS authorities met with the representatives of the Trade Union Front in an attempt to avoid the strike and to negotiate their demands. However, in the absence of any agreement, the front called on the professionals to continue forward with the action.
The CCSS is a government organization that provides social security to all Costa Ricans including health care, pension and insurance services. It is responsible for formulating and executing both preventive and healing health programs. It has around 29 hospitals and 250 health care clinics throughout the country.
For the last two months, Costa Ricans have been on the streets expressing their indignation towards the neoliberal policies promoted by Alvarado’s administration. Teachers and students have been mobilizing against a series of regressive reforms in the education sector. Other social sectors such as fishermen, peasants and cargo transporters have been opposing the anti-labor reforms as well as the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) of 13%, which came into force since July 1. It is applied on a number of services that were excluded from the previous tax.