The Lights and the Shadows of the New Cuban Labor Code

Entra en vigor el nuevo Código de Trabajo cubano (Foto: Alejandro Menéndez Vega)

The new Labor Code entered into effect in Cuba. (Photo by Alejandro Menéndez Vega, used with permission)

After several months and intense debates in the workplace ,and the National Assembly of the People's Power, the new Labor Code was issued in the context of the expansion of private businesses and incentives for foreign investments. But the exclusion of anti-discriminatory articles regarding gender identity and harassment at work have sparked controversy on the Island.

The new Code stresses a ban on child labor and special protections for young people between 15 and 18 years old. Furthermore, it regulates worker's rights to improve, as well as their right to daily and weekly breaks, and annual paid vacation time.

“There has been a lot of talk regarding this new law on national news,” Camilo García comments on his blog, “especially laying down legislation regarding work relations in non-state owned businesses, something that is essential with this continued exponential growth and which, for that matter, is needed to protect those who are employed there.”

Gender identity neglected

La identidad de género no fue incluida como causa de discriminación en el nuevo Código de Trabajo (Foto: Jorge Luis Baños)

 (Photo by Jorge Luis Baños, used with permission)

Gender identity was not included as cause of discrimination in the new Labor Code, only “sexual orientation.” Article 2b, referring to the grounds of discrimination, has generated strong controversy in blogs and social networks. This provision states that

Todo ciudadano en condiciones de trabajar tiene derecho a obtener un empleo atendiendo a las exigencias de la economía y a su elección, tanto en el sector estatal como no estatal; sin discriminación por el color de la piel, género, creencias religiosas, orientación sexual, origen territorial, discapacidad y cualquier otra distinción lesiva a la dignidad humana.

Any citizen able to work has the right to employment while addressing the demands of the economy and to choose a sector owned or not owned by the state; without discrimination on grounds of skin color, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, disability and other eminence harmful to human dignity.

Francisco Rodríguez, journalist and sexual rights activist , noted in his blog:

Estoy indignado porque ocurrió lo que no debía suceder. El nuevo Código de Trabajo acaba de ser publicado, sin incluir de forma explícita a la identidad de género como uno de los motivos para no discriminar, dentro de los principios fundamentales que rigen el derecho al empleo.

I am outraged because what never should have occurred, happened. The new Labor Code has just been published, without explicit inclusion of sexual identity as one of the motives to not discriminate, within the key principles that govern employment rights.

The fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation was part of the project discussed by the Cuban National Assembly last December. Furthermore, after having taken into account discussions amongst representatives, disability has also been in included. However, the proposal of representative and chairwoman of the National Center for Sex Education (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual or Cenesex), Mariela Castro, for the need to include gender identity in order to protect transsexual people, was not acknowledged.

Rodríguez notes: 

El asunto es muy grave. Pone en entredicho los métodos y formas de trabajo de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, el cumplimiento de los procedimientos legislativos por parte de la dirección del máximo órgano del Estado y la transparencia en la toma de decisiones a partir de la voluntad de los diputados y las diputadas, los únicos que pueden ejercer el derecho de aprobar o modificar leyes en representación del pueblo cubano.

This is a very serious matter. This undermines the methods and ways of work by the National Assembly of People's Power, compliance of legislative procedures managed by the highest body of the State and the transparency in the decision-making stems from the will of the members, the only ones who can exercise their right to approve or modify legislation representing the Cuban people.

In accordance with Rodríguez, the inclusion of gender identity as a cause of discrimination “was only rejected in the Parliament by the Secretary of State Council, who despite admitting that he did not fully understand the issue, took a stand against it.” Rodriguez expounds:

También presentó sus reservas hacia las propuestas de la diputada Mariela, el presidente de la Comisión de Asuntos Constitucionales y Jurídicos, quien fue encargado para dirigir la comisión que concluiría la redacción del cuerpo legal. No fue atendida ni siquiera la sugerencia del primer vicepresidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel, quien medió en la discusión y abogó por tener en cuenta lo allí planteado por Castro Espín.

Reservations against the proposals of the representative Mariela, were also brought forth by the chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and Legal Matters, who was in charge of leading the committee that would finalize the writing of the law. Not even the recommendation of the first Cuban Vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who mediated the discussion and advocated for what had been presented by Castro Espín, was taken into account.

Alberto Roque Guerra, a medical doctor by profession and activist for the LGBT community, writes in his blog that “Cuban transgender people barely have access to work and beyond that, they are obligated to act and behave according to their legal identity, regardless of the gender identity they identify with.”

Harassment at work, dismissals, groupings, and suitability: Other pending issues

Roque Guerra also warns about the absence of references of harassment at the workplace in the legislation “despite frequent cases on multiple grounds and that are very difficult to prove.” 

Las trabajadoras y los trabajadores cubanos no tienen ni la menor idea de cómo identificar el acoso laboral, a pesar de que estos perfiles han sido descritos por la psicología, la psiquiatría y la medicina del trabajo hace muchos años. En mi práctica profesional he conocido numerosas víctimas, tanto pacientes como compañeros de trabajo. Al parecer tendremos que esperar unos treinta años para incluirlo como «una novedad» de la post-postmodernidad.


Cuban male and female workers don't have the slightest idea about how to identify harassment at work, even though it was outlined, many years ago, by psychology, psychiatry and health aspects at the workplace. During my professional practice, I have met numerous victims, both patients as well as professional colleagues. It seems that we are going to have to wait thirty years to see it as «change» in post-post-modernity.

Similarly, Rogelio Díaz, from the site Observatorio Crítico, notes that the Code fails to establish effective ways to support the fight against discrimination, “at least in the private sphere where the use and abuse of the section ‘reason for the end of employment’ prevails, due to the simple ‘initiative of one of the parties.'”

The “suitability” of state workers has also been a matter of discussion. According to Díaz,

A mí me preocupaba también, por ejemplo, la situación de riesgo de los trabajadores del sector estatal de quedar declarados “no idóneos” y, por lo tanto, despedibles, sin muchas garantías. El Código y su Reglamento complementario establecen los mecanismos para este proceso y, según lo que entendí, dependerá sobre todo de la ética de las personas involucradas.

I was also concerned, for example, about the risk of workers in the state sector being labeled as “not suited” and, therefore exploitable and without many guarantees. The Code and additional regulations establish the mechanism for this process, and according to my understanding, it will above all depend on the ethics of those involved.

Chapter II, referring to worker's unions, in Article 13 points out that “workers have the right to voluntarily associate themselves and constitute trade union organizations, in conformity with its founding principles, statutes and regulations, democratically discussed and adopted, and adhere to the law.”

However, this ability to spontaneously and freely come together “is hampered by the obligation to follow certain basic “unitarian” principles, that supposedly will serve to repress any and all who attempt to do something outside of the only existent trade union recognized by the government,” warned Rogelio Díaz.

Other components excluded from the Labor Code were the right to go on strike, and discrimination based on political affiliation.

Lessons regarding procedures of the National Assembly of People's Power

The National Assembly of People's Power, as stated in Articles 69, 70 and 71, is the supreme body of the State; it represents and expresses the sovereign will of all the people, it is the only body with constituent and legislative authority, and it is compromised by representatives elected through the free, direct and secret votes of the electorate, in proportion and in accordance with the process determined by law.

Last December, faced with the impossibility of reaching an agreement during the time in which the National Assembly convened, it was proposed that a Style Committee be created to be in charge of writing the final version of the legislation, taking the representatives’ debates into consideration.

“For citizens and their representatives, the lesson must be very clear: from now on, it is not possible to cast a vote on commissions nor to have mediation outside of  the Assembly's democratic sphere. That is neither constitutional nor ethical,” Francisco Rodriguez advises.

Si hay que discutir cada letra de una ley, tendrán que hacerlo. No son posibles los conformismos ni las presiones a partir de los restringidos tiempos parlamentarios de las sesiones ordinarias de la Asamblea Nacional (…) 

El Parlamento tiene que sesionar las horas y los días que sean necesarios hasta que haya una votación sobre textos y principios definitivos. No es admisible que nuestros diputados y diputadas otorguen un cheque en blanco a ninguna persona o grupo de personas para que determinen sobre cuestiones sustantivas de derechos con posterioridad al ejercicio del voto (…) 

Solo así conseguiremos que haya respeto a las políticas aprobadas y a la voluntad expresa del Partido Comunista de Cuba en sus documentos rectores, sin que nadie se arrogue la potestad de interpretarlos y adoptar decisiones sobre la base exclusiva de su conveniencia o sus limitaciones culturales o de otro tipo.

If a discussion of every line of the law needs to take place, then so be it. Neither conformity nor pressure are feasible, since the restriction of the parliamentary times during the ordinary session of the National Assembly (…)

Parliament must convene the hours and days necessary until votes for texts and conclusive principles exist. It is not admissible that our representatives issue a blank check to an individual or group of individuals to figure out substantial issues subsequent to the exercise of voting(…)

This is the only way that we will gain respect toward the approved policies and the expressed will of the Cuban Communist Party in it's governing documents, with out anyone claiming the power to their own interpretation and implementing decisions based exclusively on their own convenience or cultural limitations, among other criteria.

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