Study of labor laws and obstacles to compliance in Costa Rica

Publication Date: 

October 1, 2003


Ruben Chacon Castro, Leda Abduhlah, Diana Fuster, ASEPROLA

Vea la Reporte en Espanol


This report, commissioned by ILRF in Costa Rica in 2003, found evidence of the following labor rights violations in summary:

Right to Associate

The government systematically fails to enforce anti-union provisions in Costa Rican law. Of the total number of union discrimination cases presented to the Director of Labor Inspection during a period of seven years (1993-2000), 62.9% did not even receive an official judicial response; they were simply filed away with no action.

Solidarity associations have been promoted by Costa Rican law and have undermined the environment for trade unions. Prohibitive measures exist to keep unions from engaging in economic activities, while solidarity associations are permitted to engage in these activities. Prohibitive measures exist to keep unions from engaging in activities related to political parties.

Since 1997, there has been a decrease in the number of unions and a rise in the number of solidarity associations. The agriculture industry witnessed a rise in the number of solidarity associations, increasing from 862 in 1986 to 1154 associations in 1990.

Right to Bargain Collectively

By means of Executive Decree No. 29676-MTSS of May 31, 2001, the Political Commission for the Negotiation of Collective Agreements was created. This commission is entirely comprised of government staff and has no representation from workers of the public sector. The commission acts as a judge, either granting or restricting collective autonomy, which means that collective agreements are subject to restrictions.

Freedom from Discrimination

Laws prohibiting discrimination cannot be enforced, as there are no sanctions whatsoever established, except for infractions in which the worker has been fired. In other words, if there is discrimination in hiring, promotion or in any other form, there is no means for a worker to win redress for the problem.

Child Labor

The latest UNICEF study from 2004 revealed that Costa Rica has 127,000 children between of the ages of 5 and 17 working.

Costa Rica's labor code and code on childhood and adolescence specify different minimum ages for employment. The ILO has requested that Costa Rica harmonize its codes, but thus far the conflict in statutes has not been resolved.

Costa Rica is considering further weakening its child labor protections through a bill under consideration by the legislature called the "Bill for the Promotion of Child Labor" (No. 13.818), which promotes child labor by awarding a series of benefits to companies that incorporate children into the permitted contractual modalities. These types of initiatives could be counterproductive and encourage the acceptance of child labor in the commercial and economic system.

Wages, Hours and Working Conditions

The Ministry of Labor approves obligatory overtime in many companies under the pretext that any sanctions placed on these companies would cause their departure from Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is considering a legislative proposal to increase the length of the workday and undermine the right to overtime pay. Bill No. 15.161 seeks to create greater flexibility in the length of the workday by increasing the length of the workday without the corresponding salary increase.

The national system for wage-setting does not conform with ILO guidance on the subject. The wage-setting system is not truly tripartite. There are no mechanisms for transparency in the discussions of the technical conditions that apply to the setting of wages.


In its annual reports, the Office of the Public Advocate has criticized the judiciary, particularly in terms of labor jurisdiction. It has pointed to labor issues as "one of the issues about which [the Office of the Public Advocate] has received the most complaints and questions." These problems arise as a result of both intentional actions and omissions.