Public sector employees in their third week of indefinite strike display a national flag as they march against the tax proposal, which is under discussion in Congress in San Jose

Costa Rica national strike testing new Alvarado government

  1. Central American country trapped in the longest strike in 20 years
  2. No agreement in sight

Costa Rica public workers’ strike against tax reforms pushed by the government of Carlos Alvarado is still strong on its sixth week, supported by school and university unions.

The protest, which began on 10th September, has lost support from several of the initial unions but thousands of educational workers are still reluctant to return to the classrooms.

The school term in Costa Rica – which finishes every November – is still suspended, while health and transport services have already been fully restored.

Organisers insisted Wednesday, 24th October on the decision to continue the protest despite having failed its main objective of halting the national economy strongly enough to force the centre-left government to withdraw its tax reform.

The proposal seems anyhow headed for congressional approval after winning a first favorable vote on 5th October, with 61% of congressmen supporting it.

The country’s economic future in the mid and short terms depends on the final approval of this reform: with it, the Alvarado administration – only inaugurated in May this year – is trying to curb the public finance’s severe deterioration and to keep the public deficit at bay.

A number of opposition parties and business leaders support the proposal, which raised the income tax, extended levies on sales in new sectors and capped government workers’ salary benefits.

However, former congressman Otto Guevara Guth said the government must take strikers to court and oust them, as well as “open a record for each public official who leaves his job, starting a legal process that could lead to dismissal without the employer’s responsibility.”

Teachers insist the tax reform affects them unfairly. The government’s promise to promote a bill to amend only one item has not worked wonders so the vast majority of educators maintain their struggle according to the Ministry of Education, employer of 85,000 people (2.5% of the population over 18 years) working for 5,500 centres totalling nearly 1m students among children and teenagers.

This is the basis of a model considered an example in the region: Costa Rica is among the 30 best countries in the world in terms of educational quality, according to the latest competitiveness index published by the World Economic Forum: general coverage of primary and secondary education in the country exceeds 90%, and the literacy rate nears 97%, only pared by Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.

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