The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDECSA) presented their Report on Workplace and Union Rights in Cuba at the University of Miami, on April 21, 2023. Focusing on exposing the state of workplace and union rights on the island, the analysis identified different violations caused by the country’s socio-political situation and “lack of democracy.”
The IACHR, an independent body belonging to the Organization of American States (OAS), was founded in 1959 and removed Cuba from its member states in 1962 because the country adopted policies linked to Marxism-Leninism, which are considered incompatible with the organization’s principles.
Ever since its inception, the IACHR has paid special attention to Cuba, and has analyzed the human rights situation on the island under the Castros’ and after today’s president Miguel Diaz-Canel was appointed in 2018. The most frequent problems the Commission faces when trying to diagnose the Cuban situation include the Government’s constant refusal to make statistics public, which they need to write up any kind of report. While they only need to send a questionnaire to government agencies in the rest of the Americas, they need to work directly with the population in Cuba, often undercover and protecting the identities of participants who fear reprisals.
For its latest report, IACHR and REDESCA carried out 80 interviews with workers from different sectors between 2021 and 2023; only 65 were used as a sample (the rest didn’t meet the basic requirements for analysis). Meanwhile, the Commission announced it had also surveyed people linked to Cuba’s legal sector (lawyers, judges, and former district attorneys). Data in the report challenges figures provided by the Cuban State over recent decades, as well as its public and workplace policies.
According to the Cuban Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) in 2021, out of the 7,051,300 Cubans of working age, only 4,619,100 are really employed, the report states. This figure contradicts statistics declared by the regime in 2020, when it announced that the unemployment rate only stood at 1.4% of the population. By contrast, reports from the Observatory of Social Rights in Cuba (SDG-Cuba) and the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCHD) cited in the report put the unemployment rate above 30%, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Out of the total number of active employees (over four million), 3,120,600 belong to the public sector, and only a quarter of the total (approximately 1,498,600) are linked to the private sector (foreign and mixed enterprise, churches and other institutions). The numbers make the Government Cuba’s number one employer, while there are only 596,000 self-employed.
According to the document, the employment rate of women is 38.9%, just over half the rate of men, which stands at 61.1% of the total working age population. Official statistics don’t feature the number of people working in informal employment or jobs on the sly. A large number of women workers fall under the informal labor category (up to 90%), as these are mostly domestic, caregiving or street selling jobs).
In terms of human rights, the main violations of workplace conditions are: the lack of free access to work and employment instability; precarious conditions and the lack of a fair wage; harassment in the workplace; lack of freedom of speech, discrimination and harassment for political and ideological opinions; structural discrimination in the workplace; and the lack of regulations for special working relations (for example, the situation of professionals providing services outside Cuba, such as doctors and teachers).
Of the people interviewed by IACHR and REDESCA, 92.3% believe that workplace and union rights don’t exist in Cuba. Meanwhile, 98.4% believe that union rights aren’t respected, are limited by the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), that operates as the only legally recognized union and limits freedom of assembly, protest, and negotiation with employers, even in the case of foreign companies. 93.8% say that the labor standards complaint process is useless or isn’t carried out properly. Lastly, 72.3% are afraid of or reluctant to access the labor justice system.
These numbers are backed by accounts from interviewees who have suffered censorship, ostracism, and unfair treatment at the hands of their employers, in one sector or another. Some of the women reported sexual harassment by their superiors, while members of vulnerable communities were discriminated against because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or disability. Others were fired or sanctioned for their political stances and are normally labeled “anti-establishment” or “counter-revolutionary” (which earns them the title “ideologically untrustworthy”). In short, approximately 56% of the population believes that there is discrimination in the workplace, based on statistics compiled by the OCDH.
Another sector affected by government policy is medical brigades and other missions abroad, whose workers suffer forced labor – according to the IACHR and REDESCA. The so-called “internationalist missions”, which include around 35,000 Cubans in the medical sector alone, make up a valuable source of revenue for the State, which takes up to 90% of the wages other countries need to pay its professionals.
Cuban workers aren’t the only ones affected by the ruling elite’s control. Foreign or mixed enterprise are also subjected to the rules of this game if they intend to make money in Cuba. They lose the power to choose their employees once on the island. There are employment agencies, under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, who charge a fee to supply a workforce.
The Cuban Government takes advantage of these conditions to introduce “well-behaved labor”, according to the report. Chosen employees are restricted when it comes to agreeing working conditions and salaries (in the currency they want) directly with the employer. Furthermore, it’s this Cuban intermediary company that collects foreign currency and pays wages in national currency, way below what it should be.
IACHR and REDESCA are both concerned about the state of labor rights in Cuba, as national legislation restricts workers’ freedoms. The right to protest, union freedom and free association are criminalized. Plus, institutions responsible for protecting workers – ministries, unions, and courts – have been hijacked by the Cuban authorities.
The State’s monopoly control, the presence of a single party, the centralization of power, the absence of democratic mechanisms and the judiciary’s subordination to the Government’s interests and expectations, are some of the more worrisome points for international organizations, as they brutally compromise the wellbeing and human rights of Cuban workers and prevent them from having a decent job on the island.
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