The Arenal Area Magazine

Workers at environmental oversight agency plan mini-strike


Workers at the Tribunal Administrativo Ambiental, the environmental police, are holding a symbolic work stoppage for three hours today to publicize their complaints that they are paid less than judicial workers doing similar jobs.

The tribunal is under the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. The employees also are protesting a dramatic cut in the agency’s budget.

Workers will not do anything between noon and 3 p.m., they said. If the government does not respond, workers said they would be conducting a work stoppage all day Friday.

This is the agency that inspects the country for environmental violations, like illegal tree cutting, invasion of the maritime zone and constructions in rural areas that do not have permits. As such, the agency has not endeared itself to many contractors or to some officials.

The tribunal conducts what amounts to environmental trials and has the power to assess penalties for environmental damage. The workers made clear that the Tribunal’s judges
were not participating in the stoppage. The workers also are unhappy because the environmental minister, Teófilo de la Torre, and President Laura Chinchilla threw out a decree that would have provided salaries equal to similar positions in the Poder Judicial.

As examples, the workers said that a judge’s assistant in the Tribunal Registral Administrativo has a base monthly salary of 664,200 but those holding the same job in the environmental tribunal get 139,200 colons less. The exchange rate today is 510 colons for a U.S. dollar.

In the Tribunal Ambiental a judge gets 527,900 colons a month, which is 334,300 less than the base salary of a Registral judge, the workers said. In addition, the Registral judge gets a 22 percent premium for accepting the risk of working for the Poder Judicial, they said.

The workers said that the Costa Rican Constitution contains an equality pay clause which is being violated. They also said that the central government is reducing the budget of the Tribunal Ambiental some 400 million colons for 2011. That is about $785,000.

Some of that money was supposed to adjust their salaries, they said.

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