Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law.
The National Institute for Women reported that 16 women were killed (including seven femicides) during the first six months of the year. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work. In 2014 the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) estimated earnings for women were 92 percent of earned income for men.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.
Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children (PANI) reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern. For additional information, see www.unicef.org/protection/ .
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The legislative assembly approved the Prohibition of Inappropriate Relations law, which entered into force on January 13, increasing penalties for sex with minors and more clearly outlawing child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person under age 15, or under 18 if the age difference is more than five years. The law bans marriage for anyone under 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious problem.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were 3,000 Jews in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law establishes a clear right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector.
Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Both the government policy on education and the national plan for higher education establish the right to education for students with disabilities.
The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities.
The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure adequate mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts.
Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands. On August 10, an indigenous person was injured during a dispute with nonindigenous persons over a farm located in the Cabagra reservation.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. Transgender persons were able to change their gender on their identity documents through an administrative law judge’s decision and later registration in the Civil Registry Office.
There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms.
On June 15, the board of directors of the Social Security Agency approved the provision of hormone replacement and psychological therapy for transgender patients.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees (12) needed to form a union may have hampered freedom of association in small enterprises. The law permits foreign workers to join unions but prohibits them from holding positions of authority within the unions, except for foreign workers who are married to citizens of the country and have legally resided in the country for at least five years. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request.
A new procedural labor code entered into effect on July 25 and lowered legal requirements to exercise the right to strike, moving the required minimum percentage of votes in favor of a strike in an enterprise from 60 percent to 50 percent. The law restricts the right to strike of workers in services designated as essential by the government, including in sectors such as oil refineries and ports that are not recognized as essential services under international standards. On July 25, a new labor procedural code (Law No. 9343) entered into force that is intended to streamline labor procedures in the courts, including those related to antiunion discrimination, and to reform provisions regarding freedom of association and trade union freedom in the courts.
The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if more than one-third of the total workforce, including union and nonunion members, requests collective bargaining, but the law also permits direct bargaining agreements with nonunionized workers. The law also permits two other types of worker organizations unique to the country: “solidarity associations,” legal entities recognized by the constitution that have both management and employee membership and serve primarily to administer funds for severance payments, and “permanent committees,” enterprise-level bodies made up of three workers elected to negotiate “direct agreements” with employers. Both entities may coexist and share membership with labor unions. The law prohibits solidarity associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions or inhibits the formation of trade unions. The law also requires that permanent committee members be elected freely by secret ballot without intervention of the employer.
Although public-sector employees are permitted to bargain collectively, the Supreme Court held that some fringe benefits received by certain public employees were disproportionate and unreasonable, and it repealed sections of collective bargaining agreements between public-sector unions and government agencies, thus restricting this right in practice.
The government generally enforced applicable laws, although procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. While the law does establish sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions, only the judiciary has the authority to apply such sanctions. Cases reach the judiciary both through labor inspections and through legal complaints filed by workers. The law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process, which involves an initial inspection, a notification to the employer of the infraction, a period to correct the infraction, a reinspection, and (if the infraction persists) a final report finding the infraction. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on the minimum wage. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, in light of the lengthy process to resolve cases. To reduce delays, the new procedural labor code replaces written procedures with oral hearings, requires labor claims to be processed within two years, and sets up a special summary procedure for discrimination claims. The new labor code also strengthens protections for labor union members, including protections against discrimination for labor affiliation and special protections via special expedited proceedings.
Freedom of association and collective bargaining were generally respected. Labor unions asserted that solidarity associations set up and controlled permanent committees at many workplaces, which in turn conducted negotiations and established direct agreements. Labor unions also asserted that employers sometimes required membership in a solidarity association as a condition for employment. To the extent that solidarity associations and permanent committees displaced trade unions, they affected the independence of workers’ organizations from employers’ influence and infringed on the right to organize and bargain collectively. In recent years the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported an expansion of direct agreements between employers and nonunionized workers and noted its concern that the number of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector continued to be low when compared with a high number of direct agreements with nonunionized workers. The Labor Ministry conducted seven working/mediation sessions to discuss complaints related to persecution against labor union activists during the first six months of the year.
There were some instances of employers firing employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported seven complaints of antiunion discrimination from January to July. There were reports some employers also preferred to use “flexible,” or short-term, contracts, making it difficult for workers to organize and collectively bargain. Migrant workers in agriculture frequently were hired on short-term contracts (five months) through intermediaries, faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation.
The ILO noted there were no trade unions operating in the country’s export-processing zones and identified the zones as a hostile environment for organizing. Labor unions asserted that efforts by workers in export-processing zones to organize were met with illegal employment termination, threats, and intimidation and that some employers maintained blacklists of workers identified as activists.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor in cases that involve movement of the victim. The law establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in persons crimes, including forced labor–when they involve movement–with sentences of between six and 10 years in prison. The penalty is increased to between eight and 16 years if the crime involves aggravating circumstances. The Trafficking in Persons Prosecutor’s Unit reported four investigations of trafficking in persons during the first six months of the year, including two persons forced into domestic service. Two cases from previous years were still open; the third case, which involved two minor victims, was ready for indictment; and the fourth case, which involved five victims, one a minor, was still under investigation. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The child and adolescence code prohibits labor of all children under the age of 15 without exceptions; it supersedes the minimum working age of 12 established in the labor code, which by year’s end had not been amended to reflect this change. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours daily and 36 hours weekly. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors. The law prohibits children under the age of 18 from engaging in hazardous or unhealthy activities and specifies a list of hazardous occupations. The government generally enforced laws against child labor effectively in the formal sector but not in the informal sector.
Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, especially in the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors. The worst forms of child labor occurred in agriculture on small third-party farms in the formal sector and on family farms in the informal sector. The government’s 2016 National Household Survey identified 30,369 working minors, representing 3.1 percent of the child population between the ages 5-17. Forced child labor reportedly occurred in some service sectors, such as construction, fishing, street vending, and domestic service, and some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
While the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing and taking administrative actions against possible violations of, or lack of compliance with, child labor laws, the Prosecutor’s Office intervenes in cases regarding the worst forms of child labor. As with other labor laws, the authority to sanction employers for infractions lies solely with the judiciary, and the law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on an equation derived from the minimum wage. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.
The government continued to implement programming to eliminate illegal child labor and the worst forms of child labor by providing individual assistance through visits, interviews, and inspections to schools and workplaces. In 2016 the Labor Ministry detected and removed from employment 420 minors, 100 under age 15, in hazardous jobs, referring them to government agencies for inclusion in social programs. The ministry reported that in the overwhelming majority of cases employers received warnings, and in the 57 cases that involved minors under age 15 and adolescent workers, 10 employers failed to comply, of which seven were referred to a labor court from July 2016 to June 2017.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor and List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The new labor code prohibits discrimination based on age, ethnicity, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, civil status, political opinion, nationality, social status, affiliation, disability, labor union membership, or economic situation. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 20 cases of discrimination from July 2016 to June 2017. The ministry began incorporating a gender-equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability. The Labor Ministry reported conducting 171 inspections on gender equality as part of its Decent Work program during the first six months of the year.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred, and there were reports of instances of employers using threats of deportation to withhold their wages.
The wage council of the Ministry of Labor sets the minimum wage scale for the public and private sectors twice a year. Monthly minimum wages for the private sector ranged from 178,703 colones ($316) for domestic workers to 629,395 colones ($1,114) for university graduates since January 1. According to INEC, in 2016 the poverty line was 105,937 colones ($188) in urban areas and 81,685 colones ($145) in rural areas. The national minimum wage applied to both Costa Rican and migrant workers. The law sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of rest, and annual vacation rights. Workers generally may work a maximum of eight hours a day or 48 hours weekly. Workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work, except in the agricultural sector, and annual paid vacations. The law provides that workers be paid for overtime work at a rate 50 percent above their stipulated wage or salary. Although there is no statutory prohibition against compulsory overtime, the labor code stipulates the workday may not exceed 12 hours, except in the agricultural sector when there is “imminent risk of harm…to the harvest” when work cannot be suspended and workers cannot be substituted.
The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. According to labor organizations, the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.
Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, this is a responsibility shared by the employer and employee. The law assigns responsibility to the employer, including granting OSH officers access to workplaces, but it also authorizes workers to seek assistance from appropriate authorities (OSH or labor inspectors) for noncompliance with OSH workplace standards, including risks at work.
The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate (DNI) is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The DNI employed labor inspectors who investigated all types of labor violations, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The DNI stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections are always unannounced.
The Labor Ministry generally addressed complaints by sending inspection teams to investigate and coordinate with each other on follow-up actions. As with other labor laws, inspectors cannot fine or sanction employers who do not comply with laws on acceptable conditions of work; rather, they investigate and refer noncompliance results to labor courts. The process of fining companies or compelling employers to pay back wages or overtime has traditionally been subject to lengthy delays, a problem the new procedural labor code seeks to address.
The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but was not as effective in enforcing the minimum wage laws in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprises 43 percent of employment. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage. During the first six months of the year, the ministry conducted 4,973 visits to priority cantons with low levels of development in an attempt to assess and address their situation through DNI intervention.
According to INEC, 44 percent of the economically active population in the nonagricultural sector was in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, through the National Program in Support of the Microenterprise, provided technical assistance and access to credit for informal microentrepreneurs to improve productive and labor conditions in the informal economy.
Observers expressed concern about exploitative working conditions in fisheries, small businesses, and agricultural activities. Unions also reported systematic violations of labor rights and provisions concerning working conditions, overtime, and wages in the export-processing zones. Labor unions reported overtime pay violations, such as nonpayment of wages and mandatory overtime, were common in the private sector and particularly in export-processing zones and agriculture. There were reports agricultural workers, particularly migrant laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals without proper training. The national insurance company reported 63,608 cases of workplace-related illnesses and injuries and 68 workplace fatalities from January to June.