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Social Security

Employment and maternity in Cuba: a more difficult puzzle to solve for private-sector workers

Mothers with small children employed by private businesses argue that they should enjoy the same protection as State-sector workers.

A young Cuban mother and her daughter walk down a Havana street.
A young Cuban mother and her daughter walk down a Havana street. DIARIO DE CUBA

Yilian works at a private cafeteria in San Miguel del Padrón, Havana. She is off one day a week, and the rest she works shifts in the afternoons until 11:00 PM. She has a three-year-old child that her sick mother takes care of, and sometimes she has to pay a lady to take on the task. She is 26 years old and has never worked for the State. She has given up on obtaining a spot at state daycare facilities.

Carla is a stylist employed at a private hairdresser's in Santa Cruz del Norte, Mayabeque. She had been working for less than a year when she had to be admitted for childbirth. She has a two-month-old baby boy and has no access to economic benefits.

"I'm considering going back to the salon, part-time, so that I can breastfeed my child," she explained to DIARIO DE CUBA.

Gabriela, 29, a self-employed worker, knows that she has no chance at securing a spot at a State daycare facility; "not by a long shot." She pays 3,000 pesos for a cuido (private daycare center) in Havana, "which is one of the cheap ones, because there are some that cost up to 8,000 pesos." She says that she also has to "take her son's snacks, food and everything else."

The three mothers say that the legislation should cover them in the same way as employees in the State sector.

"Those who work for the government also have a hard time getting their children into daycare, but their chances are greater, and now they are opening these 'little children's homes' (casitas infantiles) at workplaces. I wish I had those options," Yilian says.

In March 2023 Decree-Law 71/2023 was approved, by which Decree-Law 56, "On the Maternity of Working Women and the Responsibility of Families," dated October 13, 2021, was modified.

The modification is due to the provisions of the Family Code regarding the extension of maternity and paternity protection to commissioning parents and for cases of surrogate motherhood, scenarios addressed in the new law.

Cuba is one of the member states that ratified the International Labor Organization’s  Maternity Protection Convention in June 2004, which upholds "the equality of all women in the labor force and the health and safety of the mother and child, and in order to recognize the diversity of economic and social development in Member States."

In Cuba, however, there are notable differences between women employed in the State sector and those who are not when it comes to maternity leave.

In the first place, in order to receive the maternity benefit a working mother in the State sector only has to be employed on the date of the beginning of their prenatal leave, regardless of the type of contract she has signed. Even the 75-day employment requirement provided for in the previous legislation was eliminated.

A private sector worker, in contrast, must have contributed to the special regime in the 12 months immediately prior to the start date of her maternity leave. In Carla's case, she is forced to resume her work at the hairdresser's near her home because she had not worked for a full year before giving birth, and has no more income. Her husband's salary, also hired by self-employed workers, is not even enough "to start the month."

The regulation establishes that the minimum salary (2,100 CUP) in both the State and non-State sectors, in cases where both the salary and the average contribution base are lower, will be taken as a reference for the economic benefit.

The above is also stipulated for mothers, fathers or working family members, beneficiaries of the special Social Security regimes who at the time of the entry into force of Decree-Law 56 were receiving an economic or social benefit for maternity in an amount less than the minimum wage.

However, this policy is not applied in the non-State sector, where there is no full benefit for pregnant women, or any cash benefit for mothers with sick children.

A mother, father or one of the working grandparents who take on the care of the child can benefit from unpaid leave from the first year of life of the child until it reaches five years of age, but this is only applicable to the state sector.

Access to early childhood education

In 2021, a campaign by Cuban activists collected signatures for the creation of daycare centers to enable rural Cuban women enter the workforce. Women in the Cuban countryside, limited and economically dependent, continue to struggle with a lack of childcare.

Private day care centers, known as cuidos, have been the only option for thousands of Cuban working mothers in recent years. Many do not have help from family members who can take care of children who are not yet of school age. This is another issue that Cuban women must consider when it comes to having a child.

Although it is not established in the aforementioned norms, the establishment of priorities for access to and enrollment at day care centers is part of the maternity legislation. In this regard, working mothers in the State sector and student mothers have advantages over working mothers in the private sector.

Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, head of the Ministry of Education (MINED), admitted in January of this year that Cuba does not have sufficient facilities to meet the existing demand, and that there were 42,000 pending applications from working mothers that could not be approved.

There are currently 1,122 daycare facilities open on the island. María de los Ángeles Gallo Sánchez, national director of Early Childhood at MINED, told Granma at the end of January that 25,086 slots were delivered, which meant only 46.9% of the total number of applications received: 53,447.

According to the official, only 719 of these slots were granted to self-employed workers, although she did not specify whether they were business owners or hired workers. The remaining 24,367 slots were distributed among the state sector, students and social cases.

To alleviate this situation, the Cuban government turned to casitas infantiles (children’s houses), created by work centers and which, according to official data, number around 80 and serve 1,900 children, still far below the needs.

Velázquez Cobiella said that the MINED must approve the opening of casita infantiles, with requests to be filed by employers in order to resolve the situations of their workers. This issue is covered by Resolution 58/2021, which also regulates the operation of this type of institution.

"The funds for their opening, maintenance and sustainability must be provided by the employer, which is also responsible for the selection of the premises, furniture and material resources required. It will also ensure that no significant differences are generated relative to what is applied at (State) childcare centers."

The MINED, meanwhile, has to guarantee "the material basis for study, as well as educational attention to children by educators and auxiliary pedagogical staff with degrees in the specialty of Early Childhood Education."

The lack of childcare and childcare options is one of the reasons why fewer and fewer Cuban women are deciding to have children, and those who do are not having more than one child in a country suffering from an aging population.

"I decided to have one and call it quits," Carla told DIARIO DE CUBA, in a joking tone, but serious in her determination. "When the child starts walking I?ll have to put him in daycare, but now it's up to me to come up with the pesos. Dressing and feeding a child drains your pockets. I don't even want to think about when I have to spend more on childcare," she concludes.

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