On January 17, El Salvador’s judicial system shut down when more than 10,000 workers from six different unions went on strike after their demands for salary increases went unmet. The unions had scheduled meetings to discuss pay increases for the workers, but the Supreme Court President Belarmino Jaime, called them off, resulting in the strike. The strike lasted seven days and affected courts and judicial centers throughout the country, resulting in a crisis for the judiciary, which is already known for being slow and inefficient. The National Civil Police (PNC) began breaking up the strike on January 22, opening some of the coroner offices that had been closed. Workers returned to their post the next day as negotiations over their salaries resumed.
The impacts of the strike are significant. The strike inspired medical workers who have now begun demanding a 10% pay increase to keep up with other public employees. El Faro reports that during the strike, the courts had to cancel 840 hearings, leading to the release of 46 alleged criminals. While the courts were closed, police were told not to make any arrests because without being able to set a hearing, detainees would only be released anyway. The coroner’s office, which is part of the judicial branch, was also shut down during the strike, resulting in the unsupervised removal of 22 bodies and destruction of court evidence.
El Faro interviewed a member of the largest union that participated in the strike. The workers, who remained anonymous, said they were angry that higher-ranking employees of the judiciary had just received raises and new health insurance benefits, and the lower level employees had received nothing. The union spokesman added, “we’re not opposed to their receiving benefits, but what about the rest of the judicial employees?” The interview did not play well with the general public, with many people commenting that they wish they made as much as the judiciary employees. Belarmino Jaime fed the public’s frustration by commenting, “they don’t work anyway.” President Funes, officials from the Catholic Church, newspaper editorials, and several others spoke out against the unions for shutting down the courts, and the impact it was having on the country’s security, which is the primary concern for most Salvadorans.
The discussion of a strike seems to have been brewing for sometime, and given the gravity of shutting down the courts, their decision was not made lightly. Talks about a pay increase began in January 2010 and they gave plenty of notice that they would strike if their demands were not met. Its unclear how effective the strikes were. Belarmino Jaime said that the Court had refused to negotiate with the strikers and had not made them an offer. In fact, the unions, which were not getting much support from the general public, reduced their demands in hopes of finding a speedy resolution. It remains unclear whether the unions will get the pay increase they are looking for. The last thing El Salvador needs is for even higher levels of insecurity.