OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA
RIGHT TO SOCIAL SECURITY
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of man establishes:
Article XVI. Every person has the right to social security which will protect him from the consequences of unemployment, old age, and disabilities arising from causes beyond his control that makes it physically or mentally impossible for him to earn a living.
Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that
“every person.. has the right to social security”, and Article 25 goes yet
further in stating that this right includes “insurance in the case of
unemployment, illness, disability, death of a spouse, old age and other causes
beyond his control that make it impossible for him to earn a living”.
The Constitution of Cuba contains several provisions with respect to this
Article 8. The socialist state:
b. As the power of the people and for the people, guarantees
- that no disabled person be left without adequate means of
In reference to the equal rights of women, Article 43 provides that the
State “grants them paid maternity leave, before and after giving birth¼:”.
In addition, the Constitution establishes
Article 46. The state social security system assures adequate protection to every worker who is unable to work because of age, illness or disability.
case of death similar protection shall be extended to his family.
47. The state social aid protects
aged persons lacking financial resources or personal assistance and those who
are unable to work and have no relatives to help them.
Article 48, for its part, provides that:
He who suffers an accident on the job or is affected by an occupational disease has the right to medical care and to compensation or retirement in those cases in which temporary or permanent work disability ensues.
Article 49 of the Constitution, in referring to the right to health and
to free health services, partially covers the right to social security.
The above-mentioned constitutional provisions reflect the legal evolution
that has taken place in Cuba in the course of the current political process.
The principal characteristics of the laws enacted are presented below.
Legislation from 1963 to 1976
On March 27, 1963, a general social security law was enacted (Law no.
1100), that provided coverage to all paid workers and which also recognized work
performed in any sector of the economy at any time.
The law guaranteed cash pensions in the case of death, disability,
maternity retirement and work-related accidents or injuries.
Workers did not have to contribute to the retirement fund; instead, taxes
were levied on production units for that purpose.
This law has been described by the International Labor Organization in
its report to the Eighth Conference of American States as “one of the most
advanced laws on social security”.
Benefits in case of illness
Services are provided in the period of illness and recovery up to one
year, or until retirement “in those cases in which the worker has been fully
disabled”. Workers receive up to
40% of their wages if they are hospitalized, and 50% if they remain at home.
The law establishes several eligibility conditions for a retirement
to complete 60 years of age, in the case of men, and 55, in the case of
women; b. to be employed at the time the request is submitted;
c. to have worked for at
least 25 years. Up to 50% of the
average wage received over 25 working years may be obtained.
A person who has worked more than 25 years would receive an increase of 1
– 1.5% per year. Persons employed
in dangerous occupations have the right to retire five years early.
In the case of disability, the legislation of 1963 established that a
person could receive no less than 50% of his annual wages.
When the disability is job related, the rate is 60%, and when the
disability occurs in performance of police or military service, the person is
awarded 100% of his annual wages.
In the case of death, the law of 1963 awarded 60% of the wages if there
is one dependent, 80% if there are two and 100% if there are three.
The law also granted twelve weeks of pre- and post-natal leave to all
pregnant working women, both in the private and public sectors.
Likewise, every working mother was guaranteed one hour daily from her
working schedule to nurse and take care of the child. If a working mother gave birth without entering a State
hospital, she received a cash subsidy. Finally,
the State provided pregnant mothers any material assistance or services that she
and child may have required during pregnancy and until the mother and child were
sent home from the hospital.
In January of 1974, Cuba enacted a Maternity Law that improved on that of
1963 with respect to social security. The
new law established that “every pregnant working woman, independently of the
kind of work she performs, is obligated to cease work in the 34th
week of pregnancy, and has the right to a temporary leave of 18 weeks, six weeks
before childbirth and twelve weeks following it”.
The temporary leave is with pay; financial assistance is “equal to the
weekly average of wages and subsidies” that she receives during the twelve
months prior to taking leave. However,
“to guarantee care and rearing of the child in its first year of life”, the
working mother has the right to have her child examined by a pediatrician, and
may take one day of leave for that purpose.
Since 1967, the system has provided “supplementary assistance” to
workers who attend university; the worker receives financial assistance while he
attends school and is not receiving a salary; financial assistance is
non-reimbursable. Young workers in military service enjoy the same right.
Since 1970, low-income workers are not required to pay rent for their
The 1963 legislation did not cover single mothers who did not work, nor
the elderly who had no income or relatives, nor the disabled who had not worked.
However, measures were taken in 1964 to extend coverage to such persons,
and such measures were improved in the course of the seventies.
In 1976, the Cuban government approved law 1323 which provides that the
Ministry of Public Health shall organize social assistance services for the
elderly and the disabled, as well as for the physically or mentally handicapped.
Social Security Law of 1979
The law of March, 1963 was repealed by a new law on social security which
came into force on August 28, 1979. The
new provisions on social security protect workers and their families, and
include medical assistance and cash benefits in cases of temporary or permanent
disability due to illness or injury, whether or not they are work related.
Coverage is also extended to cover old age or death.
The provisions on maternity remain unchanged from the previous law.
The new law provides free benefits in kind (medical care, rehabilitation,
artificial limbs). Cash payments
are proportionate to the prior wages of the worker, up to 90% of the average
wage for a given period of time. In
the case of illness or injury that occurs while not on the job, the person
affected has the right to 50% of his wage if he is hospitalized, and 60% if not.
If the illness or injury is work-related, the worker can receive 70% of
his salary if he is hospitalized and 80% if not.
In no case may the daily benefit be less than $1.50.
When a worker is permanently disabled, he is entitled to a pension if he
meets certain requirements: “a.
if he was actively working at the time of the disabling illness or
injury, and b. except in the cases
of illness or injury on the job, if he has completed the required number of
years, which ranges form 1 to 15 years for workers between 24 and 60 years of
When a person has worked for up to 9 years, and suffers a disability that
is not job related, the pension is equivalent to 30% of his wage; if the
disability is job-related, it is 40% of the wage.
When the person has worked from 9-14 years, he receives up to 40% of his
salary if the disability is not job related, and 50% if it is job related.
In cases of over 14 years of service, the percentages rise to 50% and 60%
respectively. The pension is
increased by 1% for each year of service beyond 25 years.
Both benefits for temporary disability and the pension for disability are
increased by 20% if the illness or injury is due to an act of exceptional valor
which saved human lives or protected property of social value.
The provisions for old age pensions are similar to those in the law of
1963. However, when application for
pension is postponed past the normal age, the regular pension rises according to
a special rate for each year of service, up to a maximum of five years beyond
the retirement age. If a worker has
completed only 15 years of service, but has reached retirement age, he receives
a pension of 40% of his wage, plus 1% for each year of service over fifteen
In the case of the death of a worker, the law stipulates that the widow
(if she has been married for at least one year before the death of her husband)
or the widower (only when he is a dependent, is at least 60 years of age, or is
disabled), children under 17 years of age or who are disabled) and single at any
age (including adopted children), and the dependent father or mother, are
entitled to survivors benefits for two years.
The pension awarded to survivors is equivalent to a percentage of the
pension for old age or disability that the deceased worker was receiving or to
which he would have been entitled.
Social Welfare Benefits
The law of 1979 provides social welfare to the elderly, the disabled,
those who cannot work, single mothers, working mothers taking leave without pay
to take care of sick children, persons “who do not meet the requirements of
eligibility for social security benefits or whose benefits have expired”,
orphans who continue their studies after 17 years of age, members of a family
whose children are in military service, and “any needy person”.
Benefits include a monthly cash payment, lodging in homes for the
elderly, homes for the handicapped, insurance for workers and nay other special
treatment that may be required 
It should be pointed out that the new legislation provides social welfare
to everyone on the basis of need. In
addition, the law goes beyond provision of financial assistance, as it creates
the legal framework for physical retraining of workers.
It encourages workers of advanced age to remain in their jobs while also
allowing them to retire if they have completed 15 years of service and have
reached retirement age.
Prior to 1959, Cuba possessed a relatively advanced social security
system; however, it has been estimated that from 37% to 47% of the labor force
was not covered by any kind of social security program.
Health insurance benefits covered a small proportion of the labor force
and only a few workers received insurance benefits for unemployment.
Survivors insurance and pensions for disability and old age were numerous and
differed greatly with respect to benefits; however, the system covered very few
Every worker had to contribute to a particular fund, depending on his
occupation and its sector of the economy. Benefits
were granted on the basis of financial contribution and seniority, and
contributions were not transferable in cases of changes of occupation or
The Economic Commission for Latin America has observed that in practice
the efficacy of the social system
was limited, since illness and accident insurance covered only a sector of the
labor force, and left part of it “outside the system”.
To this sector should be added the unemployed, who were likewise not
covered by social security.
In cases of job-related injuries, it was necessary to go through “a
lengthy proceeding, the cost of which was borne by the plaintiff, thus
diminishing the income that would be received as compensation”.
Protection for disability, old age and for survivors covered
approximately 50% of the workers, most of them men.
Only those who worked for the State had income insurance in the case of
illness, and that for only two months (100% of wages the first month and 50% in
the second). Workers in the private
sector could, by law, receive up to 3 days pay in case of illness, but could not
exceed nine days per year. In
practice, even this benefit was not very common.
It has been observed that the Cuban revolution “notably improved” the
social security system.
The State became solely responsible for social security.
The entire administrative structure was coordinated and centralized,
legislation was standardized, differences among the various sectors of the
economy in terms of benefits were eliminated, and measures were taken to
establish a universal system applicable to every worker.
The number of pension recipients has increased approximately 14.95% per
year, from 1959 to 1981. In the
first year of the Cuban revolution there were 154,000 pension recipients.
Twenty-two years later, the number reached 662,000.
In 1978, 798,294 people received some kind of social welfare. Of that number 92% received a pension and 8% enjoyed some
kind of social welfare. Most of
those receiving welfare benefits were the elderly who had neither income nor
someone to care for them. They
represented 68% of the total, followed by the handicapped (20%), single mothers
(5%), widows unable to work and with children (3%), relatives of prisoners (3%)
and other unspecified groups (1%).
The amount of pension varies. One
author has written that “pensions are set as a proportion of salaries and time
of service, but extreme differences in pensions are reduced by a minimum and
The monthly per capita pension (determined by dividing the amounts in the
fund by the number of pensioners) has remained almost constant since 1959. In
the first year of the revolution, a pensioner received an average of $61.80
pesos; in 1978 the average figure was $64.83.
Apparently, this amount is insufficient for women pensioners, who may
have no other source of income. In
1975, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba stated:
“It should not be forgotten that the minimum wage in the country is
still 75 pesos per month and that the family burden for active workers, as a
general rule, is greater than for those who have retired, so that to raise the
minimum pension to $100 monthly pesos is completely out of the question”.
The average received by those on welfare was $17.21 pesos per month in
At this time, there are 59 homes for the elderly throughout the country.
In 1982, there were 7,255 people living in these homes, where they
received free housing, food, clothing, shoes, medical care, medicine, recreation
and a monthly allowance.
Present coverage of the social security system, based on available
figures, indicates that in 1978, of the total population at retirement age,
56.4% received a pension.
At that time there were 2,027,741 families in the country as a whole.
Presuming that those who are retired did not live alone and that there
was one per family, 32.6% of all families received some benefit from the social
As the population’s life expectancy increases and the fertility rate falls,
the ratio of workers to pension recipients may decline notably in the future.
At this time, there are 3.7 workers for every pensioner.
37. The above presentation indicates that in both legal and practical terms, social security and welfare are universal rights available to the Cuban population. In the case of unemployment, disability, illness, death of spouse, advanced age or any other reason, Cubans are entitled to receive welfare benefits from the state. Without question, this constitutes notable progress. Those who receive social security and welfare do not have to directly contribute to a national fund to be entitled to that assistance, since the system is financed by the state budget. The system in unified and is uniformly applied throughout the country, in accordance with universal guidelines. There is no apparent discrimination on the basis of sex, race, place of residence or any other category. The average welfare payment has been quite low; as a rule, it has been below the minimum wage.
Económica para América Latina (CEPAL), Cuba:
Estilo de Desarrollo y Políticas Sociales, Mexico, Siglo XXI
Ed., 1980, p. 150.
Gaceta Oficial, January 165, 1974.
 Ibid, p. 150
 Ibid., pp. 150-151.
August 29, 1979
 Gaceta Oficial, August 29, 1979.
Statement of Orlando Peñate Rivero,
Director of Social Security for the State Committee on labor and Social
Security in “La Seguridad Social en Cuba”, Granma Resumen Semanal
(La Habana), September 14, 1980, supplement, page 2.
There is disagreement with respect to the coverage figure of 53%.
Carmelo Mesa-Lago affirms that “In 1958, approximately 63% of the labor
force was covered by insurance for old age, disability and for survivors”. See: Mesa-Lago,
Carmelo, The Economy of Socialist Cuba, A two Decade Appraisal,
Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1981, p. 169.
“Labor and Revolution” in Rolando E.
Bonachea and Nelson P. Valdés, eds., Cuba in Revolution, New York:
Doubleday, 1972, p. 362; Granma (Havana), September 12, 1982,
Granma Resumen Semanal,
September 24, 1980, Supplement, p. 2, Mesa-Lago, Carmelo, “The Economy¼”
Ibid, p. 148.
 Mesa-Lago, C., “The Economy¼” op. Cit., p. 169
Mesa-Lago, C., “The Economy¼”
op. Cit., p. 171 and Bohemia, Havana, December 18, 1981, p. 48.
Bohemia, Havana, July 6, 1979, pp. 16-23.
Mesa-Lago, C., “The Economy¼”
op. Cit., p. 170.
September 19, 1975, p. 4.
Bohemia, July 6, 1979, pp. 16-23
Granma Resumen Semanal,
October 3, 1982, p. 6.
Comité Estatal de Estadísticas, Dirección
de Demografía, Anuario Demográfico de Cuba, 1979, Havana, May 1981,
Ibid, p. 215.
This estimate is based on a projected
active labor force of 2,440,000 wokers in 1978 and 652,000 pensioners.
See: Comité Estatal de
Estadística, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba, 1978, Havana,
1980, p. 58.