Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cubans shun government's low-paying jobs

Cubans shun government's low-paying jobs
In light of low salaries, many Cubans do not bother to work, preferring
to make their money on the street.
Posted on Sat, May. 31, 2008

Loraicys is 27 years old and has never held a job. She is not alone.

As Raúl Castro embarks on an ambitious plan to kick-start the communist
nation's economy, he faces a daunting challenge: Many Cubans simply do
not work.

Decades of measly salaries and vast government subsidies have kept many
young people off the labor rolls because it's more lucrative to hustle
on the street. Others live comfortably enough off money sent from Miami
and elsewhere.

Loraicys turns down neighborhood janitor positions in hopes of
higher-paying work at nearby resort hotels, where she also could earn
tips in dollars.

''I am not going to tell you something different. There are jobs here in
Cárdenas where I live. Doing what? Cleaning hospitals for 150 pesos [$7]
a month,'' said Loraicys, a single mother. ``For 150 pesos, I would
rather stay home with my kid. I am willing to work really hard -- but
not for nothing in return.''

While Cuba struggles to increase productivity, it must also find a way
to entice hundreds of thousands of people to get a job. The dilemma is
one of the profound systemic difficulties Castro faces as he tries to
create a so-called modern socialist economy.


The government says there are plenty of jobs -- just low-paying ones
Cubans won't take. Even educated professionals would rather work in the
tourist industry as waiters or taxi drivers, which earns them far more
money than state jobs that usually offer about $10 a month.

Loraicys said she has blanketed all the state agencies that run tourist
resorts near her home with résumés, but she lacks the high school
diploma required for even menial work. So she spends most days hanging
out in front of her house, watching horse-drawn buggies go by in this
colonial city east of Havana known as Ciudad Bandera, because it is
where the national flag was first raised on May 19, 1850.

''If Raúl Castro wants to crack down on people who do not work, then he
should offer real jobs,'' Loraicys said. ``Don't you think people would
prefer to have independence, to have something they can be proud of?''

Officially, Cuban government figures show its unemployment rate is just
1.9 percent, the lowest in Latin America. At the same time, government
statistics show just 4.8 million of the 6.7 million working-age people
are ''economically active.'' And a survey conducted by the state-run
Juventud Rebelde newspaper showed that just in Guantánamo province, on
the eastern tip of the island, there were 18 times more unemployed
people than official figures reflected.

The National Bureau of the Young Communists League said 90 percent of
unemployed youths would like to go to school or work if they found
``acceptable options.''


According to Granma, the communist party newspaper:

• 20 percent of the working-age population in Havana is unemployed.

• Nearly half of them turn down jobs when they are offered.

• 17 percent of the more than 17,000 recent technical school graduates
did not show up for the jobs they were offered. Another 200 of them
stopped coming in after a few months.

''Unfortunately there is not an inconsiderable segment of our society
that wants to live without working and considers that through the black
market, it will have everything by living off of others,'' Granma editor
Lázaro Barredo wrote in a recent editorial.

When Raúl Castro took office on Feb. 24, he announced an increase in
state pensions and wages. In April, economic commentator Ariel Terrero
said on state television that the government would lift caps on wages,
an important shift that defied the socialist ideology that long dictated
policy here.

''For the first time, it is clearly and precisely stated that a salary
does not have a limit, that the roof of a salary depends on
productivity,'' Terrero said, according to The Associated Press.

He added that he did not view this as a violation of socialism, but
rather ``from each according to his work to each according to his ability.''

Many Cubans told The Miami Herald they did not work because it just was
not worth it. The dual currency system, which pays state salaries in
nearly worthless pesos and sells most consumer goods in a dollar-based
tender called the CUC, means average salaries don't cover the cost of
basic goods such as shoes, which can cost three times as much as a $10
monthly wage.


Eduardo, 30, a stagehand who got his first job four years ago, said most
of his friends worked for the first time when they were in their late
20s -- after emigrating to Florida.

''Why was I going to work? The money they would pay me was not going to
meet my needs,'' he said. ``My mother in Orlando sent me $100 a month,
and with that I was set.''

Experts say Castro needs to overhaul the pay scheme to give Cubans the
incentive to work.

'In their work life, Cubans have two approaches to labor. In the state
sector, for many, their attitude is: `They pretend to pay us, we pretend
to work,' '' said Archibald Ritter, who teaches about the Cuban economy
at Carleton University in Canada. ``Yet they will even pay to get jobs
where it's possible to get bribes or steal. Lots of Cubans work hard.
They work very hard at quasi-legal, unofficial activities.''

Ritter said the government has to create opportunities for more people
to run private businesses and have clear incentives to produce and earn
more coveted CUCs.

''For decades, Cuba tried to create the new socialist man, and what they
created instead was a nation of entrepreneurs,'' he said.

Even as wages increase, laws on the books are intended to stimulate
productivity. As interim president, Raúl Castro mandated efficiency at
the workplace and instituted penalties for people who were late or did
not stay their full shift.

The Miami Herald withheld the name of the correspondent who wrote this
report and the surnames of some people quoted because the reporter did
not have the journalist visa required by the Cuban government to report
from the island.

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