Economy & Trade, Headlines, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean

Cuban Union Calls for ‘Unity’ in Face of Job Reduction

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Sep 13 2010 (IPS) - The elimination of half a million public sector jobs, starting immediately and lasting through the first quarter of 2011, is one of the most complex and sensitive aspects of the reforms announced by Cuban President Raúl Castro.

“For years they told me full employment was an achievement of the revolution, and now they’re talking to me about ‘inflated payrolls’. I don’t understand anything…,” a disgruntled store employee, who did not want to give his name, complained to IPS in response to a question about the thorny issue.

In a statement issued Monday, the CTC — Cuba’s only legal trade union — said it must maintain “systematic control” over the “restructuring” and stated that “the unity of workers” will continue to be “the most important strategic weapon.”

The issue is also a focus of discussion in meetings called by the governing Communist Party in workplaces, with the aim of ensuring the “political and social consensus” that must accompany the process, which is to result in the cutting of over one million public sector jobs in the next five years.

According to the CTC, the reduction of 500,000 jobs over the next few months forms part of “the process of updating the economic model and the projections for the economy for the 2011-2015 period.” (The five-year plan has not yet been announced.)

“These measures…are to identify which jobs are indispensable and to relocate (employees) to other jobs wherever necessary and possible or to retrain workers,” the union’s statement says.

It also says that to absorb the labour power that will be made “available,” legal options for “autonomous work” will be expanded and diversified, such as the leasing of rooms, cooperatives, or self-employment, “into which hundreds of thousands of workers will move in the next few years.”

As of 2009, some 5.7 million people in this country of 11.2 million people worked outside the home, including nearly two million women.

With the new measures, the government says it hopes to boost labour productivity, improve discipline and bring about more efficient use of available resources.

“We must erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working,” Castro said in August.

The imminent loss of jobs has raised new concerns in Cuba, but also new prospects, expectations and questions with regard to the expansion of private enterprise, as the new tax regime and guarantees for how the new system will function have not yet been made public.

In an unpublished study on the modernisation of Cuba’s economic model, which IPS saw, economist Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva says the expansion of self-employment must overcome problems that up to now have made it difficult for people to actually work and support themselves.

He mentioned, for example, problems in purchasing necessary inputs or parts; a contractionary fiscal policy; virtually nonexistent financial aid and government oversight or monitoring; as well as restrictions on hiring others.

In Pérez Villanueva’s view, the proposals for expansion of private enterprise should include the creation of small and medium-sized businesses, which, among other advantages, could increase and diversify the offer of goods and services.

In 2004, there were 166,700 legally registered self-employed people or “cuentapropistas”, 39,600 of whom were women.

At the peak of the phenomenon, in the mid-1990s, there were 200,000 cuentapropistas. But the number of people who were legally registered as self-employed gradually dropped after that, partly because the government did not renew permits for many activities that were initially allowed.

In the public sector, which is the biggest employer in Cuba, “it will only be possible to take on people for the jobs that are deemed indispensable, in areas that have historically been short of labour power, such as agriculture, construction, teachers, police, industrial workers and others,” the CTC statement adds.

Sources of employment will also be generated in areas where major investments are currently being made, like the oil industry, construction, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry and tourism. The production of certain goods will also be stimulated, and the export of services will be expanded.

The union says “the changes in employment policy will be applied gradually, will immediately begin to be adopted, and will affect all sectors, due to their magnitude and impact.” In addition, “it will no longer be possible to apply a formula of protecting or indefinitely subsidising, by means of continued salaries, workers” who have lost their jobs, it adds.

The CTC also says “the personal disposition” of the workers themselves will play “an important role” in their transfer or relocation to other jobs, and stresses that “demonstrated suitability” will be the criteria used to determine who will continue to occupy the available jobs.

The union repeated the government’s position that the state “cannot and should not continue to maintain companies or productive and service enterprises with inflated payrolls and losses that damage the economy, are counterproductive, generate bad habits and distort the conduct of workers.

“Production and the quality of services must be improved, bulky social expenditure must be reduced, and undue gratuities, excessive subsidies, study as a source of employment, and early retirement must be eliminated,” the union adds.

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