HAVANA TIMES— Cuba’s Draft Labor Bill, drawn up in December of last year, is now being distributed to workers at all workplaces around the country.
Advanced by the Council of Ministers and approved by the National Assembly of the People’s Power (or Parliament), the draft bill will be subjected to the same review process which Cuba’s Social Security Law and the new Guidelines of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) were submitted to: the so-called “popular consultation”.
This consultation, hailed as an “expression of our revolutionary democracy”, is supposedly aimed at involving workers in an assembly process where opinions and suggestions will be collected.
The Cuban parliament seems to know, in advance, what the final outcome of this process (which ought to be a negotiation) will be, and at no point considers the possible revocation or the radical re-design of the draft bill.
The 16-page pamphlet is a painfully boring read designed to inspire apathy instead of interest.
The technical language used and the lack of other, clearly-written materials with which workers could effectively participate in this legislative activity, guarantee, in fact, that very few people will participate in discussions.
Yet the economic reforms undertaken as of the last Party Congress, and the fact that over half of the articles in Cuba’s 1985 Labor Code have been modified over the last 20 years, justify the need to draw up a new code for the workers of the island.
The main changes to the Labor Code proposed have to do with the duration of work contracts. The new law proposes two types of terms for these agreements: open and defined.
The new Code also seeks to modify the terms under which workers can terminate contracts of their own will.
Though it will maintain the 8-hour work day, it proposes flexible weekly hours (between 40 and 44), which can be decided by the managers of the different workplaces.
Issues of considerable importance which the draft bill had been expected to address, such as regulations for the self-employed, jobs generated by foreign investment and the situation of professionals were treated only superficially.
Under the new law, private employers are expected to guarantee a salary equal to or higher than the country’s minimum wage, pay social security taxes and offer vacations to their employees.
The norm for these vacations, however, is set at a minimum of 7 days, and the proposal is to take the vacation time directly out of the salary, something not altogether favorable for the majority of individuals with non-State jobs.
Though Cuba continues to bet on large companies as the generators of employment across the island, it has not yet addressed such vital issues as how benefits are to be distributed between the State and the workers who take such jobs.
In addition, no private initiatives in the professional sector have been authorized. Professionals (such as doctors or teachers) can still only be employed by the State.
Two long sections in the draft bill alert us to the continuation of the lay-off process. The bill seeks to regulate the process of declaring an employee “available” (i.e. firing them) on the basis of their demonstrated skills. It states that management will continue to make such decisions.
The changes do not seem to favor the situation of workers, both private and State. Only a few labor rights acknowledged by the bill strike me as positive for example:
- The right to voluntary association and the creation of trade unions, without the need for prior authorization.
- The right to undertake legal action, before the corresponding bodies, authorities or entities, in order to demand adherence to labor and social security legislation.
These might ultimately constitute a mechanism that Cuban workers can use to revert or eliminate the growing difficulties they will doubtless run into.