Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cuba Raises Pay, Castro Attacks 'New Rich'

Cuba Raises Pay, Castro Attacks 'New Rich'

By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press WriterWed Nov 23, 3:26 PM ET

Cuba announced a major increase in government salaries Wednesday, saying
days after President Fidel Castro declared war on the nation's "new
rich" that it wanted to reward workers with high productivity and
advanced university degrees.

The Communist Party daily Granma said on its front page that
higher-level workers unaffected by a minimum wage increase in May would
be eligible for productivity payments and bonuses for having a master's
or doctorate.

The announcement appeared aimed easing state workers' lives in a country
where many have been engaging in illegal side activities to make ends meet.

Castro last week announced a crackdown on Cubans who make a living
stealing gasoline and other state goods, as well as those the government
reluctantly licensed as self-employed tradesmen or private restaurant
owners during tougher economic times.

In a speech, Castro complained that the "new rich" corrupt state workers
and take advantage of cheap utilities and other subsidies while enjoying
hefty profits from their private ventures.

"It is a fundamental principle of the revolution to raise workers'
income, beginning with those perceived to have the lowest salaries, and
from there progressively eliminate the social differences that increased
during the special period," the party daily said, referring to the
measures adopted during the severe financial crisis brought on by the
Soviet Union's collapse.

Cuba also announced it would increase its heavily subsidized utility
rates for households using large amounts of electricity. Households
registering less than 100 kilowatts monthly will continue to pay a
fraction of a cent each month.

The wage increases announced Wednesday seem small in U.S. terms but will
likely be welcomed by higher-level government workers.

Cuba's minimum wage was increased by more than 100 percent in May, from
about $5 to about $11. More than 1.6 million workers benefited from the
raise but several million higher-level employees did not.

Granma said these would be the first pay increases in 23 years for some.

Although low by international standards, Cuban salary figures can be
misleading in a country where most people do not pay for their housing,
utilities or transportation. Health services and education are free,
other government services are heavily subsidized and everyone receives
about a third of their food each month for less than $3.

Government employees with a master's degree or similar achievement level
will receive between $1.50 and $4 more each month. Doctors will get as
much as $7.40 extra in each monthly paycheck.

Employees in workplaces with especially high productivity will be
eligible for extra bonuses ranging from $3.70 to $9.90 a month.

Pensions for retired people, which were increased to $7.40 a month in
May, will now be increased to a minimum of $8.

The government's social assistance payments for families with members
who are unemployed, disabled, handicapped or on maternity leave will
also be increased.

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