President Raul Castro’s announcement that one in five Cuban workers may be redundant has many workers concerned. In a country where 5.1 million people work for the state, which has a total population of 11.2, this affects virtually all the residents.
Short on details, many fear that as many as one quarter of all government workers will loose their jobs or be moved into the farming or construction sectors. With salaries worth only about $20.00 per month, and 95% off all employees working for the state, low pay has equated to low productivity.
Cubans like to joke, “the state pretends to pay us and we pretend to work.” It is a common site in Cuba to have several employees observing while few are actually working. Tips and wages are so low in restaurants that the staff is unconcerned with their customers.
Salvador Valdes Mesa, secretary-general of the nearly 3 million-strong Cuban Workers Confederation has insisted that the reorganization will not result in any firings but rather that employees will be reassigned. With the need in agriculture and construction sectors the fear is that many will simply quit.
One 35-year-old computer engineer fears he will loose his job but he says, “I didn’t graduate from college to now work as a day laborer or a peasant.” “My question is ‘Will the Cuban authorities put aside their paternalism and let me leave?’”