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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Cuba

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Cuba, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 11,400,000
Capital: Havana
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138

The same labour standards remain in force in Cuba. Workers can only belong to the single trade union. Freedom of association is restricted and collective bargaining and the right to strike are not recognised by law. Several independent activists who were sentenced to lengthy terms in prison in 2003 were exiled. The country has a unique system of labour relations, with the State playing the role of all social actors.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: Cuban law recognises the right to organise, but trade union organisations must also play a political role, and contribute to developing and supporting the regime. Workers' rights are subordinate to political objectives.

The bodies that deal with the administration of labour are also part of the leadership structures of the State apparatus.

The General Secretary of the national trade union centre, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), has the right to take part in meetings of the Council of Ministers and its Executive Committee. The CTC National Committee can propose legislation.

Of the 14 paragraphs that make up article 16 of the Labour Code, setting out the rights of trade unions and the CTC, only two can be interpreted as workers' rights. The rest concern the unions' political contribution to developing the government's model.

The government explicitly prohibits independent trade unions, though it claims there is no legal requirement for workers to join the CTC.

The government told the ILO that it was undergoing a comprehensive revision of its Labour Code. According to the Cuban authorities "Freedom of association, protected in Convention 87, does not translate into the false concept of 'trade union pluralism' imposed by the main centres of capitalist and imperial power."

Collective bargaining: The legal requirement to join a union is implicit in employment contracts, although there is no express requirement. Once that relationship has started the worker is expected to join a union by filling in the appropriate document. The Labour Code stipulates that in order to be legally valid and effective, collective agreements must be discussed and approved in workers' meetings and be formally declared in writing and signed by the parties, i.e., the employing body as well as the trade union organisation. Any modifications or additions must be approved in workers' meetings and signed by the parties.

The State controls the labour market and decides on pay and working conditions in the State sector. In the private sector, the 1995 Foreign Investment Law requires foreign investors to contract workers through State employment agencies. The investors pay the agencies in dollars, but the agencies pay the workers the equivalent figure in pesos, pocketing up to 95% of their salaries.

Right to strike There is no legislation covering the right to strike. According to the government there is no need to call strikes since the demands of official trade union organisations will always be heard by the authorities. According to the Labour Code, workers can only refuse to work if the infrastructure or machinery in their workplace poses a risk, although they are obliged to work, provisionally, in another post assigned to them. This is tantamount to denying the right to strike, according to international labour standards.

The Labour Code also provides that "A trade union inspection of work could order the paralysing of machinery, equipment and tasks and propose that the workplace be closed down, if the conditions are such that an imminent workplace accident is foreseen". There is no information concerning the actual implementation of this provision.

To take legal steps over labour issues, workers must first turn to the Labour Council. Labour disputes are settled by State institutions.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The island was hit by three hurricanes in a row, causing huge human and material damage, to the extent that the regime appealed for international assistance. Raúl Castro introduced some liberalising measures.

CUTC leaders expatriated: Four leaders of the United Council of Cuban Workers (Consejo Unitario de Trabajadores de Cuba – CUTC) who had received lengthy prison sentences were released and expatriated. Another five remain in prison. The General Secretary of the CUTC, Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos, was exiled to Spain in February 2008. The other exiles were identified as Omar Pernet, sentenced to 25 years; José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, 20 years; and Alejandro González Raga, who had been given a 14-year term.

Predictions of a general release of political prisoners and dissident trade union leaders, as a goodwill gesture and a sign of a relative change in the running of the country, now in the hands of Raúl Castro, were not fulfilled.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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