Patrick-Style Attack In Costa Rica

Unions file complaint with US govt as attack on workers and unions continues in Costa Rica under free trade agreement

In response to a Patrick-style military attack on dock workers in Costa Rica the International Longshore Workers Union has joined with local unions to take the company and the government to task for breaching its own labour laws.

In May, 60 Costa Rican police officers broke down the doors of the SINTRAJAP union hall.

The ILWU Coast Longshore Division went to investigate and provide solidarity to the dockworkers, calling on messages of solidarity from Australian dockworkers and dockworkers internationally.

Paddy Crumlin, MUA national secretary and chair of the ITF dockers section wrote to SINTRAJAP General Secretary Ronaldo Blear Blear.  

He expressed outrage on behalf of the dockworkers of the world at the state violence against the union and its members, pledging international support.

"We were most concerned to hear of the recent attacks against protestors upholding their democratic rights and demonstrating in support of Costa Rica dockworkers," he wrote. "Your union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de JAPDEVA (SINTRAJAP) and your members, have been illegally and unconstitutionally targeted by the country's authorities as the government sets out to destroy the union and privatise the ports."

Now after repeated failures by the government of Costa Rica to effectively enforce its own labour laws, the ILWU and local unions have filed a formal complaint against the Government of Costa Rica under the Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement.

"Americans want to believe Costa Rica is a paradise," said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. "But Costa Rica's turning into a country in which police smash in doors and windows where workers have conducted peaceful meetings, where the government spreads propaganda to interfere in workers' elections, and where working families' well being is placed a distant second to the profits of multinational corporations."

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Coast Longshore Division has been assisting the SINTRAJAP longshore union. American longshore workers labour for many of the same major shipping carriers and stevedoring companies as the ones operating in Costa Rica.

"Dockworkers at Costa Rica's Pacific port of Caldera were subjected to a similar privatisation scheme in 2006 and are suffering mightily for it," said McEllrath. "Ninety percent of longshore workers lost their jobs, those remaining saw their pay cut by two-thirds, and precarious working conditions have led to 46 waterfront deaths. Costa Rica must be held accountable for its ongoing and deliberate abuse against workers and their union rights."

Among other violations, the unions charge that, "The conduct of the Costa Rican government includes the militarisation of the ports in the run up to a complete takeover of the union, directing the police to raid and occupy the union's business office, and entering into an unconstitutional multi-million dollar deal with the government-backed employer-run board of union directors to entice workers to leave the union and accept privatisation of the ports." 

About the ILWU: The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Coast Longshore Division represents 25,000 longshore men and women in California, Oregon and Washington.  

About SINTRAJAP: The Sindicato de Trabajadores de JAPDEVA (in English, the Union of Workers of JAPDEVA) represents 1,400 longshore workers and port employees in Costa Rica who work for the major fruit exporting ports of Limón and Moín on the Caribbean coast.

About ANEP: The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados (in English, the National Association of Public and Private Employees) represents 15,000 Costa Rican workers in all sectors and is the Costa Rican equivalent of the AFL-CIO in the United States.