a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request. 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.
The labor code stipulates that at least 50 percent of the workers in an enterprise must vote to support a strike. The law, however, adds that even if there is no union at the enterprise or if the union lacks the support of 50 percent of the workforce, a strike may be initiated if 35 percent of the workers call for a vote by secret ballot. The law restricts the right to strike for 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 January 27, the president signed into law a bill regulating strikes, which includes a prohibition on strikes by workers in nine essential public services and allows employers to suspend the pay of public-service workers who are on strike.
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 also requires that permanent committee members be elected freely by secret ballot without intervention of the employer.
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 establishes a scope of implementation and procedures for negotiations. 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. 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. A court’s decision ratified the ceiling of 12 years for severance pay when an employee is terminated. As of July the Ministry of Labor reported 10 requests for conciliation in collective labor disputes related to union rights; eight of them took place in the agricultural sector (pineapple and banana farms).
The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of individual rights, such as discrimination. While the law establishes sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions, only the judiciary has the authority to apply such sanctions. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on the minimum wage. The law requires labor claims to be processed within two years and sets up a special summary procedure for discrimination claims. The law also provides labor union members protections against discrimination based on 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.
In some instances employers fired employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported two allegations of antiunion discrimination from January to June. 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 through intermediaries (outsourcing), faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation. In early June, after the Ministry of Health identified a wave of COVID-19 cases in the northern zone of the country, including several clusters of cases among workers in the agricultural sector and packaging industry, an interagency team inspected agricultural companies and found violations related to migration; occupational health and labor laws, including failure to comply with work schedules; minimum wages; and overtime pay. Twenty-eight companies received warning notices from the labor inspectorate.
The ILO noted no trade unions operated 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 and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. The law establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in persons crimes that were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Forced labor of migrants occurred in the agricultural sector. On June 22, the Judicial Investigative Police identified 14 migrant workers (including eight irregular migrants and six refugees, one of whom had a COVID-19 quarantine order) living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on a farm in Pococi, Limon. In 2019 the Attorney General’s Office reported a conviction of trafficking for labor exploitation involving four male victims.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The child and adolescence code prohibits labor of all children younger than age 15 without exceptions, including the worst forms of child labor; it supersedes the minimum working age of 12 established in the labor code. 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 younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous or unhealthy activities and specifies a list of hazardous occupations. The government generally enforced child labor laws 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. Forced child labor reportedly occurred in some service sectors, such as agriculture, construction, fishing, street vending, and domestic service, and some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). Authorities suspected that adults used children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may have been trafficking victims.
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. The government effectively enforced the law. 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 commensurate with those for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.
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 https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The 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 commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The Labor Ministry reported seven cases of gender discrimination from January to June. The ministry continued to implement a gender-equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability. The COVID-19 pandemic affected women’s employment, with women suffering the greatest number of job losses (see section 6, Women). As of July the unemployment rate for women reached 30 percent, compared with 18 percent before the pandemic started. The labor participation rate decreased from 52 percent to 44.5 percent.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers from Nicaragua occurred, and there were reports of instances of employers using threats of deportation to withhold their wages.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
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 were above the poverty line. 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. While women may work in the same industries as men, there are legal restrictions regarding limits on women’s working hours and tasks. Women and children are prohibited from working in jobs deemed dangerous by law. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws mainly in the formal sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar labor infractions.
The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country, according to the National Council of Occupational Safety and Health. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for similar labor infractions, although the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.
The responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with the Labor Ministry’s OSH experts and not the worker. Workers may 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 responsibility for occupational accidents and diseases falls on the insurance policy of the employer.
The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The directorate employed labor inspectors, who investigated all types of labor violations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The directorate stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections were 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.
The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but less effectively in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprised 40 percent of employment as of June, compared with 47 percent before the pandemic started. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage, mainly in the agricultural sector. The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate continued operating during the pandemic, and after facing a two-month moratorium at the beginning of it, the labor inspectorate resumed inspections in May, when officials began virtual hearings.
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 that 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 42,115 cases of workplace-related illnesses and injuries and 23 workplace fatalities from January to June.