ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138
There was no change in Cuba where the single trade union system persists, there is no genuine collective bargaining and the right to strike is not recognised in law. Independent trade unionists continued to face persecution and seven of the trade unionists sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2003 remained behind bars. Humanitarian aid destined for them and their families was confiscated by the authorities. Another trade unionist arrested in 2004 also stayed in prison.
Trade union rights in law
A single union: The Cuban authorities only recognise a single national trade union centre, the Central de Trabajadores Cubanos (CTC). The Labour Code, which was published in 1985, does not provide for any genuine freedom of association. The government explicitly prohibits independent trade unions, though it claims there is no legal requirement for workers to join the CTC.
The government has told the ILO that it is undergoing a comprehensive revision of its Labour Code. A new code is unlikely to guarantee genuine freedom of association, as the government maintains that existing laws already do so. 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 Labour Code requires that in order to be valid legally, 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 employment 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 per cent of their salaries.
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.
Trade union rights in practice
No independent trade union activity possible: Any attempts to form free trade unions are obstructed by the government, chiefly via restrictions set out in the Associations Act. Anyone who engages in independent trade union activity runs the risk of being persecuted and losing their job. Workers are required to keep an eye on their colleagues and report any "dissident" activity. Independent labour activists are periodically arrested, harassed, threatened with prosecution and pressurised into going into exile.
Those organisations that do exist are unable to represent workers effectively. As they are not recognised, they cannot engage in collective bargaining or take strike action. Workers are not able to exercise their rights or to take part in peaceful marches or demonstrations in support of their demands. Independent organisations have been set up by dissidents opposed to the Castro regime, and though they do defend union rights, their main concern is fighting the regime and promoting respect of general human rights. Their offices have been searched, equipment confiscated and communications intercepted. Some of these unions have been infiltrated by State security agents.
Violations in 2006
Background: There was much speculation over President Fidel Castro's health during the year In July 2006 he temporarily stepped aside after undergoing surgery, and handed over control of the government to his brother and designated successor, Raul.
Trade union prisoners: Nine members of the CUTC were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, ranging from 13 to 26 years, in 2003, including Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, the General Secretary. Two were later released on health grounds, but seven remained in prison throughout 2006. Carmelo Díaz Fernández, General Secretary of the Christian Trade Union, Unión Sindical Cristiana, and one of the two released because of his ill health, was repeatedly reminded by the authorities that they still considered him a prisoner. In March 2006 he was prevented from leaving his home all day to attend a commemoration of the March 2003 arrests. He was again arrested in September and detained for 10 hours, during which time he was refused medication for his serious heart condition.
Lázaro González Adán of the independent workers union Confederación Obrera Nacional Independiente de Cuba (CONIC) remained in prison throughout the year, without charge and without trial. He was arrested in October 2004 by the National Revolutionary Police. He believed he was being kept in prison as a deterrent to other independent trade unionists.
Independent trade unionists harassed: Alejandro Antonio Cervantes Martínez, a member of the CONIC, was interrogated by members of the State Security Department on 12 April. During his interrogation he was repeatedly threatened, and told that "If we can hold Lázaro González Adán in prison, we can hold anyone in prison".
María Dolores Prado Suárez, a delegate of the light industry workers' union (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Ligera – SITIL) and education coordinator at the national trade union training centre (Centro Nacional de Capacitación Sindical y Laboral – CNCSL) faced constant threats and harassment during the year, the CONIC reported, including warnings from the local police chief and threats that she would be sent to prison for her activities.
In November an agent from the State Security Department confiscated two packages from María Elena Mir Marrero, a member of the CONIC executive. The agent arrived just after an employee from the US Interests Section delivered the packages to her home. They contained books, copies of Newsweek and children's colouring books. The agent told her she should report to the Guanabo police station on 30 November, then threatened her and left with the packages.
State confiscates aid from independent union: The independent union, the "United Council of Cuban Workers" (Consejo Unitario de Trabajadores Cubanos – CUTC) reported that during the year the government confiscated humanitarian aid sent by foreign trade unions to assist imprisoned CUTC members and their families. The CUTC offices are regularly raided by the government and its books, documents and computers confiscated.
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