The labor force was estimated to be 1.377 million in 1998, with 5.6 percent unemployment and 7.5 percent underemployment (employment that does not require all the skills held by the employee). Working conditions are regulated in Costa Rica by a Labor Code (Código de Trabajo), and by administrative directives issued through the Ministry of Labor. Among the basic stipulations in effect are a minimum salary, a maximum workday with overtime stipulations, minimum safety and health requirements at the workplace, paid vacations and resting days, severance pay, a mandatory Christmas bonus, and maternity leave. Wage statistics published by the Inter-american Development Bank show that, although real minimum wages in Costa Rica fell by 1.4 percent between 1990 and 1992, they rose by 15 percent between 1992 and 1998.
Enforcement of the laws and regulation is conducted by Labor Ministry inspectors and through the labor courts. All employers are required to insure their workers against job-related injuries. Coverage is provided exclusively through the National Insurance Company (INS), and covers medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation in case of disability. Costa Rica has ratified, to date, 48 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions.
Labor unions have existed legally in Costa Rica for a long time and there are at least 4 national labor organizations or confederations: Confederación de Trabajadores Rerum Novarum (CTRN), Central del Movimiento de Trabajadores Costarricenses (CMTC), Confederación de Trabajadores de Costa Rica (CTCR), and Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT). The influence of labor is greatest in the public sector.
During the 1990s, fiscal constraints led the government to curtail some of the privileges of public sector employees. These privileges were considered excessive and disproportionate to the benefits of workers in the private sector. Among the privileges that were discontinued were shortened workweeks, extended vacation periods, wage premiums linked to seniority and not productivity, and severance bonuses. This resulted in strikes held by public sector employees. Inability to solve the disputes led unions to process claims of labor rights violations at the International Labor Organization. During the 1990s, the ILO reports that strikes and lockouts averaged 18.5 per year, with the worst year being 1990. About 70 percent of these occurred in the public sector.