Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cuba raises salaries of skilled workers

Posted on Thu, Nov. 24, 2005

Cuba raises salaries of skilled workers
The Cuban government announced major pay raises, mainly for doctors and
other highly trained professional workers.

Less than a week after declaring an assault on Cuba's ''new rich,''
President Fidel Castro raised salaries Wednesday, bringing total wage
hikes this year to 25 percent.

Aimed largely at highly skilled professional workers, the raises appear
designed to address the growing schism in Cuban society, where doctors
often give up their government salaries in favor of more lucrative jobs
driving taxis.

Castro addressed the new measures on state television Wednesday night,
The Associated Press reported, saying the raw salary figures don't take
into account the broad range of free and heavily subsidized services
that Cuban workers enjoy. ''If we count everything . . . the salaries
are more than $1,000,'' he declared.

The move followed a speech last week in which Castro vowed to crack down
on people who line their pockets with stolen government goods. He railed
against those who pilfer and resell gasoline and promised to cut back on
private enterprise.

''The Cuban government is really trying hard to refocus very
aggressively on equity,'' said Daniel P. Erikson, director of the
Caribbean program at the Inter-American Dialogue. ``The social equality
that existed for decades disintegrated so dramatically in the '90s, it
had gotten out of hand.''

But the announcement of higher pay and pensions came with a downside.
The government increased electricity rates among heavy users to stave
off an energy crisis and encourage conservation.

The measures form another swing in Castro's economic policy, which,
after moving to allow more private enterprise during the first half of
the 1990s, now seeks to cut back on things like farmer's markets, where
prices are not controlled by the government.

The trick, experts said, is to do that and at the same time diminish
domestic discontent.

''There's not a lot of economics in this,'' said international economist
Jorge Pérez López. ``These are diversionary tactics.''

Among the announcements published Wednesday in the Communist Party daily
newspaper Granma:

• People with a master's degree or its equivalent will receive a
$4-a-month raise; doctors will see a $7.40 raise.

• Nearly 5,000 job categories were moved to higher pay grades.

• Highly productive workplaces will be eligible for bonuses of up to
nearly $10 a month.

• Some state workers will see their first raise since 1982.

The pay hikes follow a similar raise in May, when the minimum wage went
from $5 a month to about $11, costing the state $3.2 million a year.

''Cuba is advancing rapidly toward the reduction of inequality and
injustices,'' Castro said in a recent speech.

''The salary increases are not going to be enough,'' said Jorge Piñon, a
research associate at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies. ``Wait until people have to pay for food at
market prices.''

''Subsidizing electricity created a wasteful society,'' Piñon added.
'And now it's like Castro is finally throwing out his 37-year-old son to
the street and saying, `It's time for you to earn your living and see
what it takes to survive.' ''

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