Costa Rica Guarantees Fair Compensation and Benefits for Coffee Pickers

Costa Rica’s coffee industry is facing challenges due to international instability, a weaker dollar, climate change, and labor supply challenges. This has led to the introduction of worker benefits, including a new work accident insurance policy for 15,700 people, as well as health insurance plans for illness and maternity launched three years ago as part of a social responsibility program sponsored by private growers and the government.

Costa Rican coffee has to uphold social and environmental responsibility, as well as high quality, which sets it apart in the world. Providing fair conditions to the pickers benefits them, of course, but it also benefits the whole sector, says Guillermo Trejos, manager of CoopeLibertad, a cooperative of nearly 1,200 coffee producers from Costa Rica’s central valley that exports specialty coffee to the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Migrants make up over 75% of the 20,000 workers who follow the harvest seasons around Costa Rica, many of whom are from Nicaragua, but others are Ngäbe-Buglé Indigenous peoples from Panama. They are vital during the intense harvest months of November, December, and January. Costa Rica has committed to benefitting growers more than intermediaries and exporters.

The new worker benefits align with Costa Rica’s traditional social security model, which historically positioned the country favorably in terms of quality of life. However, it is increasingly under threat on several fronts. The coffee worker benefits also align with the legal framework Castillo mentioned, and the Labor Ministry’s focus on ethical treatment of workers. Guillermo Trejos and many other exporters hope these measures will drive favorable prices from the more sophisticated international markets.

The concern is that with high global supply, coffee prices may decrease and the premium for Costa Rican coffee may shrink. However, there are buyers who value the social responsibility aspect, said Trejos. Costa Rican coffee prices were 65% above market average in December 2023, but the price has been falling from $3.20 a pound in January 2022 to $2.30 in December. The U.S. dollar has also dropped 27% against the Costa Rican colón in the last 18 months, eroding export profits.

In 2023, changes in weather patterns forced earlier harvests, disrupting the scheduling of seasonal workers and reducing productivity. Widespread protests in Panama blocked roads, hindering workers traveling from that country to Costa Rica. Both disruptions resulted in a projected 12.6% decline in the current harvest, with an estimated 1,672,881 bushels. This would be the smallest harvest in a century, less than half the volume harvested in 2000.

The worker benefit programs are funded by taxes and contributions from coffee retailers who are committed to becoming “a more competitive sector, and at the same time respectful of worker rights,” said Agriculture Minister Víctor Carvajal in October 2023 when he announced the work-related accident insurance program.

Cristian Flores and his wife came from Nicaragua for the harvest season, unaware of the available insurance and child care options for the kids they left with their grandmother. He was surprised because he didn’t know that he could see a doctor or get medicine if something happens. Now, he thinks they’ll probably come back for the next harvest and maybe bring the kids along,” said Flores.

Read More @ El Pais

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