(Extract / 6 Sections and/or Sub-sections)
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
Although the constitution grants the limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that they may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three people or more, and failure to do so carries a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. In practice, however, these gatherings were tolerated. Religious groups reported the ability to gather in large numbers without registering or facing sanctions. The Catholic Church was permitted to celebrate the 400th anniversary the Virgin of Charity with a year-long series of public processions in honor of the saint.
Political opponents, however, faced greater obstacles, and police often suppressed attempts to assemble, even when these were in private dwellings and in small numbers. The government continued to organize mobs to assault and disperse those that assembled peacefully. Although the government characterized the mobs as spontaneous, participants frequently arrived in government-owned vehicles or were recruited by local CP leaders from nearby workplaces or schools. Mob participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted revolutionary slogans, sang revolutionary songs, and verbally taunted the targets of the protest for hours. Often government-orchestrated mobs assaulted the targets or damaged their homes or property. Government officials at the scene did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints. On more than one occasion, officials took part in the beatings.
The government did not grant permission to antigovernment demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups. While the government tolerated the Damas de Blanco’s Sunday marches after Mass in Havana, government-organized mobs broke up marches planned by the Damas in other locations .
Civil society organizations reported continued suppression of the right to assemble. On November 24, several prominent Afro-Cuban activists were detained to prevent their participation in a three-day conference sponsored by the independent Citizen’s Committee on Racial Integration. On November 25 and 26, state security blocked entry to the conference venue, preventing the conference from taking place as planned. The government often resorted to forceful action to disperse those assembling peacefully. In many cases it employed mobs to assault participants at events it sought to disrupt.
Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights.
Freedom of Association
The government routinely denied its citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization that is not officially recognized. Authorities have never recognized an independent human rights organization. However, a number of independent organizations and professional associations operated as NGOs without legal recognition.
Recognized churches, the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas, the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only associations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the CP, and government-organized organizations. However, these groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerts pressure on church leaders.
Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association. In 2009 an independent lawyer’s group, Asociacion Juridica Cubana (AJC), filed a writ of mandamus demanding action on their application for legal recognition. In April the Supreme Court ruled that the AJC had the right to have their application for status reviewed and ordered the Ministry of Justice to do so. In June the Ministry of Justice issued the AJC a certificate stating that there is no equivalent organization in the country, the first step in the registration process.
The government continued to afford preferential treatment for those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
Although the law recognizes freedom of association, it heavily restricts this right by recognizing only the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC) as the paramount trade union confederation. All trade groups must belong to the CTC in order to operate legally. The law does not provide for the right to strike. The law also does not provide for collective bargaining, instead setting up a complicated process for reaching collective agreements. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns regarding restrictions to collective bargaining and agreements, including that government authorities and CTC officials had the final say on all such agreements.
The government continued to take active steps to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. CTC leaders were chosen by the CP. The CTC’s principal responsibility was to manage government relations with the workforce. The CTC does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or advocate for the right to strike. The CTC took a lead role in disseminating information regarding the government’s planned large-scale layoffs of government workers and in defending the government’s decision to do so. Its leadership defended the layoffs, stating that “our state cannot and should not continue supporting businesses, production entities, and services with inflated payrolls; it will no longer be possible to apply a formula of protecting and subsidizing salaries on an unlimited basis to workers.”
Several small independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition, including the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba, the National Independent Laborer Confederation of Cuba, and the Joint Council of Workers of Cuba. In April these three organizations joined forces to create the Coalition of Independent Unions of Cuba. These organizations were subject to police harassment and infiltration by government agents and had a limited capacity to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf.
The government can determine that a worker is “unfit” to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. Persons were deemed unfit because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, and for trying to depart the country illegally. Professionals who expressed interest in emigrating were also penalized. Of the 75 dissidents jailed in 2003, seven were independent labor leaders. All were released over the past two years.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law forbids slavery, bondage, and all forms of forced labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and there were no reports that such practices occurred. During the year the government officially abandoned mandatory summer work programs for the youth.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The legal minimum working age is 17, although the labor code permits the employment of 15- and 16-year-old children to obtain training or fill labor shortages. The labor code does not permit 15- and 16-year-olds to work more than seven hours per day or 40 hours per week, or on holidays. Children ages 13 to 18 cannot work in specified hazardous occupations, such as mining, or at night.
There were no known government programs to prevent child labor or remove children from such labor. Antitruancy programs, however, helped ensure that children were in school and not in the labor market. Inspections and penalties were adequate to enforce the law, and in practice it was rare that children under 17 worked.
d. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The monthly minimum wage was fixed at 225 pesos (approximately $9). The minimum wage requirement does not apply to the small non-state sector. The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily pay is reduced by 40 percent after the third day of a hospital stay), housing, and some food. Even with subsidies the government acknowledged that the average wage of 448 pesos per month (approximately $19) did not provide a reasonable standard of living.
The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly 24-hour rest period, and 24 days of paid annual holidays. These standards applied to state workers as well as to the small nonstate sector (but not to the self-employed). The law does not provide for premium pay for overtime or prohibit obligatory overtime but generally caps the number of overtime hours at 12 per week or 160 per year. However, the law provides little grounds for a worker to refuse to work overtime. Refusal to work overtime could result in a notation in the employee’s official work history that could imperil subsequent requests for vacation time. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish different overtime caps as needed. Compensation for overtime is paid in cash at the regular hourly rate or in additional rest time, particularly for workers directly linked to production or services, and does not apply to management.
Laws provided for workplace and environmental safety. The law provides that workers who consider their life in danger because of hazardous conditions have the right to refuse to work in a position or not engage in specific activities until such risks are eliminated. Workers remain obligated to work temporarily in whatever other position may be assigned at a salary provided for under the law.
The Ministry of Labor effectively enforced minimum wage and hours of work standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to enforce occupational safety and health standards.
Workers frequently complained that overtime compensation was either not paid or not paid in a timely manner. The government continued to expand the number of trades that could be plied privately, to 181, and for the first time allowed the self-employed to hire labor. Foreign companies operated in a limited number of sectors, such as hotels, tourism, and mining. Such companies operated on the basis of a joint venture policy, in which the government contracted and paid company workers in pesos, an amount that was a small fraction of what the company remitted to the state for labor costs. Employers are prohibited from contracting or paying the workers directly, although many reportedly made supplemental payments under the table.
The independent and illegal Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba reported numerous violations of health and safety laws at worksites throughout the country, including inadequate and poorly maintained equipment and protective gear. The CTC seldom informed workers of their rights and did not respond to or assist workers who complained about hazardous workplace conditions.