Do Cuba’s Workers Deserve a Chance?

January 7, 2017 |

By Raudiel F. Pena Barrios  (Progreso Semanal) 

Cuban construction workers.  Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The reflections and comments that I will present this time are a response to events which have taken public spotlight in Cuban and foreign media recently.

First there was the news, which was later repeated by the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, that a French company responsible for building a huge hotel in the country’s capital had hired workers coming from India. Maybe the most note-worthy point about this whole issue was the explicit recognition that they were more productive and efficient than Cuban workers.

Then, the second leading government newspaper Juventud Rebelde quoted a CEO from a Cuban company who stated that workers from India involved in this building project were performing three or four times more than the national average.

However, what wasn’t said in the Cuban press is that our builders, and generally-speaking any worker (professional or not), are unable to be hired directly by foreign companies which are operating in the country, even though our work force wants this and companies have agreed to the terms and conditions of their contracts.

I believe that we should ask ourselves what a Cuban worker’s performance would be if they could earn similar wages or even a percentage less than what foreign workers earn working in our country. We’d have to see what a fellow countryman’s efficiency and productivity levels would be if they could earn, for example, 1500 CUC per month, which is what the Indians are earning or maybe just 500 CUC even. They can’t be compared for the simple reason that the same parameters aren’t used in the two situations.

More recently, I was surprised to hear that the Ministry of Labor and Social Security put a resolution into effect, which allows companies established at the Mariel Special Development Zone to hire foreign individuals who don’t live in Cuba, to make up a max. of 15% of its total workforce. The regulatory provision specifies that these should be personnel who will perform management duties or some technical job positions. With regard to the latter, we can think about experts with knowledge and experience in productive processes or services, which companies established in Mariel can offer. The government press also echoed this news; sparking a wide range of responses.

Ever since the country began to talk about the Mariel project, both in government speeches, the  and official press as well as from experts, it was said that one of the good things about it was the possibility of creating new and various jobs. I don’t doubt that this will happen. However, I find myself asking whether we aren’t putting the Cuban workforce on an inferior level because of the legal framework that exists today for hiring national workers, which as we all know can only take place through government employment agencies and now add the chance to hire foreign workers? Nobody can expect job competitiveness between people who don’t earn the same wages, even when they are doing the same job.

Cuban construction workers. Photo: Juan Suarez

Furthermore, I believe that behind the current landscape lies a more complex reality for the country’s present and future. While we give companies in Mariel the opportunity to directly employ foreigners, we have young professionals right here in Cuba who are just as skilled as anybody else; and the worse thing of all is that they are leaving the country in droves, everyday, taking their thirst for personal well being with them. A thirst which they can’t satisfy in Cuba because, among many other factors, the majority of them are unable to access the foreign private sector of our economy. Many of them don’t know how; others aren’t trusted to form part of the so-called job offers at the government employment agencies; and others have to put up with the handicap that their expertise isn’t needed for the companies which are establishing themselves in Cuba.

It’s all too easy to criticize whoever decides to abandon the country looking for a better future. It’s still much easier to call those who immigrate having secured a job beforehand in their field of expertise, in line with their studies, “defectors”. However, nobody thought about getting rid of all of the political, administrative and mental (the worst) barriers that exist around the chance of Cubans being hired exclusively by foreign entitites established in Cuba without any kind of intervention. And among those who stay, you have to think about the thousands of Cubans who have a hard-earned university degree working in the most varied of private jobs; they could be a rental car driver in one of our old Chevrolets or a waiter in a restaurant.

In the face of this situation, isn’t it better for foreign companies to specialize by employing our own professionals, who have the skills they are looking for? It would even be much more worth their while economically-speaking as they would pay a great deal of money for a foreign trainer to come for a short period and they probably wouldn’t pay the same monthly amount to a Cuban employee. Wouldn’t it be better to let everybody earn what every company is willing to pay them, and therefore prevent them from leaving the country?

Workers from India were brought in supposedly because of the low productivity of Cubans.  Photo: Juan Suarez

According to Article 45 in the Cuban Constitution, work in a socialist society is a right, a duty and a source of pride for every Cuban citizen. This work is paid in accordance with its quality and quantity; by working, economic and social demands are being met, the choice of worker and their skills and qualifications. Without wanting to carry out an exhaustive analysis of the aforementioned article, and assuming that a lot of phenomena take place today which infringe the potential of its content; I think that our economy’s updating process should be more centered around it functioning as it’s supposed to and ensuring that its clauses are met.

Last but not least, if we have to take the worker’s choice into account, their skills and qualifications, then we should get rid of the legal hurdles which hinder these choices so that our workforce’s skills and knowledge reach their maximum expression. Maybe the day we’re able to make these adjustments we won’t have workers from India building hotels in Havana, or lawyers and engineers working as cab drivers and waiters.

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What's your opinion?

  • Circles Robinson

    In my recent trip to Cuba I didn’t find one person who supports the goverment position of favoring foreign workers over Cuban workers for decent paying jobs.

  • bjmack

    The longer Cuba goes without direct internet access for all its citizens the longer it will take to inform and make known the backwardness of the economic system in Cuba. Independence is one thing but for a country with a highly educated workforce to live like third world citizens is mind boggling. Thanks for the info.

  • Chuck1938

    This disgraceful behavior cannot stand, must be denounced and has little to do with internet and more principles, values and patriotism that is demanded for everything else!

  • Consejo Anonimo

    This development is most shameful and saddening for anybody who loves Cuba and admires the resilience, resourcefulness AND hard work of its people! The Cuban construction worker is not inferior to any other from anywhere. Was it not the Cuban construction worker who built all the preceding joint enterprise hotels on the island? Was it not Cuban construction workers who built the airport in Grenada and schools in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic (specifically the magnificent Maximo Gomez Polytechnic Institute of Bani)?

    Shame on the sellouts who have betrayed the Cuban people and their nearly 60 years of stoic sacrifice in the service of anti-neocolonialist resistance and belief in the ideals of THEIR revolution! The need for pragmatism in attracting foreign investment and economic relations with other countries does not justify this disrespectful and sovereignty compromising acquiescence to foreign economic dictates.

  • N.J. Marti

    It is an absurd rule to prevent companies from directly hiring workers. It is the role of the Government to set the employee/employer relationship. But then it needs to get out of the way. Taxes on wages is how the government should get it’s share, not through confiscation of full wages via agency model. If workers could earn their own way, then the government would need less revenue to support those in need. The current dependency model is a sub human treatment of workers.

  • CUBAQUS

    The old saying goes: you get what you pay for. That is the same with workers in Cuba. Pay crap get crap. I know lots of Cubans that took their job for “benefits” on the side (legal and other) rather than the job itself.
    I also know lots of very educated Cubans that took menial jobs in tourism for more income to support their families.
    The Cuban “job (un)market” is perverted to the hilt.
    A friend of mine wanted to hire a Cuban I recommended for a responsible job in a “mixed company” (the guy would solve his problems), but was denied hiring him (however experienced and un-political he was) and “advised” to hire an idiot with political (elite) contacts. He refused and brought in a Spanish guy. That application was approved. What a waste.