Cuba’s New, Disquieting Labor Law

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

The workers unanimously approve…

HAVANA TIMES — It took me a while, but I’ve finally finished my notes on the bill for the new Labor Law they’ll soon be forcing on Cubans. My impressions can be summed up with one word: yikes!

As written, the bill is unconstitutional, discriminatory and downright deceitful. When you make a claim of this nature, of course, you have to be able to prove it.

The bill’s very first article reads: “The right to employment (…) is guaranteed in conformity with the political, social and economic tenets laid out in the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. The right to employment is regulated by the present Law and complementary legislation.”

The document in question, however, explicitly contradicts Cuba’s current Constitution on at least two accounts. To begin with, Article 14 of the Constitution – whose days are surely numbered, but hasn’t been revoked yet – prohibits any relations based on the exploitation of man by man in Cuba.

This doesn’t stop the bill from considering certain economic activities by local private enterprises acceptable. This, which may strike some as a positive development and others as a step backwards, is simply an incongruous law which violates the Constitution and, at the same time, claims to adhere to it.

Looking at how the bill is written, I’ve noticed that most of the obligations set down for employers seem to apply almost exclusively to the public or State sector. One doesn’t get a clear sense as to whether alternative employers, private capitalists, that is, have to grant their employees these same rights.

Secondly, the paragraphs devoted to public holidays and festivities include the 25th of December and Good Friday among the country’s non-working days. Though any day I can party instead of work is a good day for me, I can’t help but be aware that these two holidays stem from a specific religion – Christianity. Now, I have nothing against Christianity, but Article 8 of the Constitution establishes that, in Cuba, religious institutions are separate from the State and that the country’s different creeds and religions are considered equal before the law.

This means that the bill is in contradiction with the secular nature of the State and discriminates among religions, for one is accorded two holidays and the others none. For instance, practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions could demand that the 17th of December, when the divinity Babalu Aye is honored, be declared a national holiday. But no. It seems that, to get a holiday, you need to have someone as important as the Pope visit the country from time to time.

The bill, therefore, does not respect the Constitution, though it claims to do so. One of the ways in which it violates the Constitution is by discriminating among individuals with different religious beliefs. This is simply unconstitutional, discriminatory and deceitful.

The bill is at its most hypocritical point, however, when it claims to acknowledge and respect Cuba’s long-standing trade-union traditions. I wonder how many libertarian trade-unionists are offended by such nerve. I wonder how many workers (those who are Cuban, not extraterrestrial) believe that the government will authorize the existence of unions that do not respond to strict, centralized control and training.

I would now like to return to Cuba’s new private enterprises and their salaried employees. Again, it is not my intention to demonize a development which, quite obviously, responds to historical and economic necessities. What I do consider cause for concern is a series of potential future developments. Bear in mind that this new law could be Cuba’s effective labor legislation for the next 10, maybe 20 years.

By then, as many of us fear, the capitalist economy will be much more firmly entrenched in our country than it is today. Private companies will have grown and consolidated themselves.

Looking at how the bill is written, I’ve noticed that most of the obligations set down for employers seem to apply almost exclusively to the public or State sector. One doesn’t get a clear sense as to whether alternative employers, private capitalists, that is, have to grant their employees these same rights.

Right now, given the miniscule salaries paid by the State, this fact may not worry people that much (nothing could be worse than a State salary). But, in the future, when the by then not so incipient private enterprise sector employs one or two million Cubans, this blessed Labor Law could well become the envy of the worst exploiters who have ever existed.

Right now, given the miniscule salaries paid by the State, this fact may not worry people that much (nothing could be worse than a State salary). But, in the future, when the by then not so incipient private enterprise sector employs one or two million Cubans, this blessed Labor Law could well become the envy of the worst exploiters who have ever existed.

By way of an example, look at how so many labor rights are explicitly regulated for State companies and how no explanation as to whether these rights are applicable in the private sector is given. For State companies, the bill stipulates collectively-mediated contracts. For private businesses, contracts are determined individually by the employers.

And, if any prole laboring in the private sector gets a little unruly, the bosses can invoke paragraph b) of Article 67 and terminate the work agreement (at the request of one of the parties) without thereby incurring any obligation towards the former employee. The infamous Walmart has a harder time laying people off than the new Cuban exploiters will.

Such is the monstrosity placed before us. And the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC) – or, better, its leadership – is promoting it with all of the enthusiasm that it can muster.

One thought on “Cuba’s New, Disquieting Labor Law

  • August 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm
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    Much ado about nothing. Until the day that a Cuban worker can hire a private attorney and sue the regime for breaking a labor law, there is little to discuss as to whether the law is purposeful or not. Even good laws, left unenforced, are useless.

    Reply

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