Cuba’s New Labor Code: The Lion Negotiates with the Monkey

Rogelio Manuel Díaz Moreno

Photo Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — A process related to the implementation of the new Labor Code has been underway in Cuba these past few months. As you’ll recall, the new bill came into effect in the summer this year, following a complicated series of rather shady proceedings, undertaken between consultations and efforts to conceal the will of the people and of parliament.

In keeping with Cuba’s institutional logic, workers have had to adjust the new “Collective Work Agreements” in conjunction with management, as per the new provisions. The CTC, Cuba’s all-encompassing trade union, is supposed to represent all workers in this. Trabajadores (“Workers”), the CTC’s official newspaper, has offered us its own, picturesque version of the process.

If one were to naively believe Trabajadores and similar publications, one would, I fear, walk away with a rather distorted idea of these developments. It would seem, in effect, that managers and workers have common interests they need to define and are negotiating these in some fashion. From the objective perspective of a worker like yours truly, that story must be unfolding in a different planet.

In workplaces that operate with State budgets and are centrally controlled, like many and many others, I am actually unsure as to what is open to negotiation. Not only do the workers have absolutely no confidence in their trade union representatives, the latter also haven’t the slightest elbow room to maneuver.

Daily, weekly and yearly working hours have already been established by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) and the blessed new law. There may be trade unions around the world that can negotiate an increase or decrease in working hours, in accordance with the interests of the disputing parties within companies, but here, no such changes could be made, not even if the management wanted them: a national law has been handed down and that’s that.

Salaries are similarly established by centralized policies. Some sectors of the economy have suffered the impact of worker exoduses, the collapse of productivity and other problems so severely that the pertinent ministries have modified the wage system in a centralized fashion – but very little or nothing has been negotiated with workers at base level. Such packages tend to be handed down from the top. The most widely known rule is that one’s salary is fixed depending on categories defined by MTSS bureaucrats. It’s what you get at the end of every month, and your trade union representative can’t do anything about it. He can, however, collect your union fees every month.

As in other parts of the world, a number of jobs in Cuba involve exposure to occupational hazards. The list of such jobs is also drawn up by the government. Work-related illnesses, the medical care these demand and whether they justify longer vacations, an earlier retirement or a little extra cash, all of this is off the negotiations table. The most that the management of a workplace can do is to kindly collect the opinions of the workers and promise that these will be conveyed to the pertinent authorities for their consideration, at some point in the very distant future.

Can a Cuban trade union request better transportation and food for the workers from the management? Of course it can – one can ask for anything one wants. They may even take it down in the minutes, which will be sent up the chain of command so that those “at the top” can tell you there’s no budget for that.

To sum up, this nationwide choreography, designed by the authorities and their trade union accomplices, will have little or no impact on the lives of working people. The most delicate process will be the election of the members of the Labor Justice Departments, which process cases that can be of importance. The best option for workers will be to ensure that the most ethical candidates, capable of withstanding pressure and of defending their comrades from injustice, are chosen.

We mustn’t forget the growing private sector. We know that the largest group of “non-State” workers is made up by employees in small and mid-sized private businesses. This accounts for more than 100 thousand workers. To get a sense of their numbers, they are probably among the 4 or 5 largest sectors in the country. What collective agreement protects them? For an avowedly socialist country, the answer is truly exasperating: none.

One thought on “Cuba’s New Labor Code: The Lion Negotiates with the Monkey

  • Unlike unions in most of the rest of the world, where the role of the union is to represent the interests of the workers, the role of the CTC is to implement the will of the government on the Cuban workers.

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