By IPS Cuba
HAVANA TIMES — Juan is a young father who is now unemployed after a not-so-happy go at work in the private sector, in the town where he lives in Pinar del Rio province, the Caribbean island’s most western province.
After his daughter was born, and after several months of looking for a better-paid job, this 20-something year old man accepted a job that his neighbor Jorge, who runs a private cafe, offered him.
There, Juan received a salary well above that of the state jobs he had held in the past. However, he quit after a while.
Why would he abandon such an opportunity? What better offer could he find with the State? Wasn’t he comfortable working right next to his home?
Juan told IPS Cuba that his work days there were 10 to 12 hours long. He only had half a day a week off and, even though he had been “employed” as a chef, he had to serve, clean, unload goods and do other tasks that needed doing at the cafe.
Like him, many people have passed through this cafe. Some have left; but others stay.
Men and women who put up with this exploitation are, especially, forced to by the material needs that these jobs cover, the competition that exists to get these jobs and the few options that exist in the state sector.
Experts and activists point out this dark side of the private sector in Cuba ever since it grew in 2010 and which has remained in force after a new Labor Code was put into effect in 2014.
Many people who aspire to work or are already working in the private sector of Cuba’s economy, are unaware of their employment rights. [The only legal union in Cuba, the CTC, has thus far shown little interest in representing workers in the private sector.]
There are many stories like that of Juan’s and of other people whose rights were violated by them not having holidays, written contracts, established working days, content of fixed work and effective protection against discrimination because of gender, race, age, among other violations.
And disadvantaged groups like students are singled out, which can be hired in the growing private sector.
Jennifer Batista, a professor in Labor Law from the International Consulting Department in the Law Faculty, at Havana University, explained some aspects related to the implication of students in private jobs.
“It’s important to demand a written contract, labor conditions and employment protection,” the expert pointed out.
“Students, like the majority of private laborers, are unaware about their rights. When they have some awareness about them and they feel exploited or violated, they continue in their jobs a lot of the time, because they know that there is a long line of people waiting to jump at the opportunity,” she said going into greater detail.
She emphasized that “the majority of young people agree on terms with their employer verbally and are only interested in finding out about the hours, pay, time off and holidays.”
And “the most difficult side of this phenomenon lies in the fact that this young man or woman is working without being on the taxpayer registry and without a license. They aren’t warned that these are years of work that will remain outside of their social security for the future, when they can no longer work,” she warned. [Most retirees in Cuba receive between 8 and 15 USD per month.]
Another issue in the spotlight of labor law at this time is protection of women in the workplace, especially pregnant women, but they are running into violations in practice and some legal pitfalls.
Firstly, the jurist underlines the fact that female employees need to pass certain selection criteria based on stereotypical beauty standards which employers enforce.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security, along with the State, doesn’t have the legal framework it needs today in order to ensure that private sector employment is free of discrimination because of the color of their skin, age and sex.
Sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t recognized either, she revealed. According to Batista, sexual harassment in Cuba isn’t included in labor law; it is just dealt with as a lack of discipline, as a lack of respect and violation.
Today, there are several regulations being applied within this context, with the aim to make employers and employees exercise their rights and duties at the right time. Nevertheless, much-needed surveys still need to be undertaken.
Cover photo: Los derechos laborales de empleados y empleadores, el lado flaco del trabajo por cuenta propia en Cuba / Jorge Luis Baños / IPS.
– Translation by Havana Times