News and Facts about Cuba

Where denouncing labor abuses is illegal

Where denouncing labor abuses is
Posted on Wed, Jan. 23, 2008

Now is a good time for labor and democracy activists to press for worker
rights and reform in Cuba. With still sidelined and the
crumbling, pressure for reform is building — not only from
ordinary Cubans but also from the international community. Promoting the
Arcos Principles, which set standards for foreign businesses in Cuba,
could pay dividends in a future transition, if not sooner.

The State Department and private-advocacy groups such as the Cuba Study
Group do well to lobby governments, international-labor groups and
business communities to help improve labor rights and conditions in Cuba.

A 95 percent tax?

For all its talk of being a socialist paradise, Cuba exploits workers
horribly. Its labor practices hurt both workers and the foreign
businesses that become partners in the abuse. Foreign businesses, for
example, may only hire workers through a government agency. Foreign
firms pay wages in hard currency to the agency, which in turn pays the
workers less than 5 percent of those wages in pesos. That's a 95 percent
tax. Ordinary Cubans, the vast majority of whom work for the government,
get paid even less. Forget pay for performance. The regime also bans
independent unions. In fact, six labor activists remain in ,
serving terms from 12 years to 26 years. Their ''crimes''? Denouncing
violations of international-labor standards and attempting to organize
workers into independent unions, what union activists routinely do in
free countries. These men should be freed.

Such labor abuses inspired the late Cuban Gustavo Arcos to
propose the Arcos Principles. Those principles require foreign investors
in Cuba to:

• Hire Cubans directly, not through a state agency, and keep politics
out of hiring decisions.

• Allow employees to organize independent unions.

• Defy apartheid by allowing ordinary Cubans access to
facilities, goods and services now reserved for foreign visitors.

One sign that Cuba is bowing to pressure is that it recently legalized
the annual bonuses, subject to taxes, that foreign firms used to pay
under the table. Such bonuses motivate employees to improve the quality
and productivity of their work. Those are the kinds of boosts that
Cuba's moribund economy needs.

Regime hard-liners may oppose these reforms because they increase the
inequality of wages. But the real issue is improving incentives, income
and rights for all workers — not just those employed by foreign ventures.

Raúl Castro already has raised expectations of economic reforms. The
international community should push for reforms sooner rather than later.

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