By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA TIMES, July 4 (IPS) — Cuba’s educational system will benefit according to a recent announcement concerning new elements in the salary reform initiative in progress since 2005.
In addition to trying to boost incomes and increase productivity, the new thrust seeks to do justice for a sector that while non-productive is one of great social importance.
“The Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers considered this necessary — despite the economic situation — as an act of justice to correct the disadvantage of this sector in terms of its (low) wage with respect to the national average,” indicated an article published Thursday in the official newspaper Granma.
The average teacher’s salary at the end of 2008 was of 414 pesos ($17.22 USD). The regulation will increase wages of all workers in that field and promises an additional monthly payment of 90 pesos ($3.74 USD) and 120 pesos ($4.99 USD) for production specialists and those providing part-time teaching services in professional technical education, with payment varying according to the number of hours worked.
These increases — miniscule by the standards of most other countries — will go a long way in Cuba given the massive subsidies provided by the government. Mercedes Fernandez, 52, and a secondary basic education teacher commented, “(the raises) can mean a week’s worth of food or the payment of almost all of a family’s basic services.”
In any case, the measure will mean an important supplemental expenditure at a time when this Caribbean island is facing the impact of the global economic-financial crisis. The pressure here has taken the form of reductions in revenues from tourism and remittances, the collapse of the price of nickel, declines in other exports and increasing difficulties in securing credit.
More than 820 million pesos ($34.1 million dollars) will be paid a year to guarantee this “modest wage hike” in recognition of the “social responsibility” of all people who work in the area of public education or teach in other sectors.
“We are being confronted with a test in which Cuba is prioritizing key sectors such as education,” said Dr. Yohandry Fontana, 37, who believes the salary increases could become an “incentive for attracting teachers back to the classrooms” – an urgent need of the system.
A total of 545,101 teaching and non-teaching educational system personal will benefit from the salary increases. Previously approved raises will be maintained in accordance to an employee’s years of service, management responsibilities, consultantship and inspection and in consideration of external factors (depending on workplace conditions and the study program).
It’s Not Only About Wages
“The decision to remain in the field of education doesn’t depend on wages alone. One usually works under very precarious conditions, almost without resources, with heavy administrative obligations, with responsibilities that exceed our capacity and with a student load that is increasingly difficult to satisfy,” added Fernandez.
“We all experienced the crisis of the last decade: families, adolescents who today are my students, and us – the teachers,” she said.
Sources with the Ministry of Education assure that the 2008-2009 School Year began with a deficit of 8,000 teachers in a country where education is public and mandatory up to the ninth grade. For this year, enrollment from the pre-school level to senior high reached 2.5 million students.
The sector had already been benefited from the 2005 salary increase offered as part of a measure that also benefited the public health sector. However, the slight increase barely slowed the exodus of personnel toward other higher paying jobs.
With the same basic idea of rescuing the quality of education – which has shown symptoms of deterioration since the last decade – the government included in the new Social Security Act, approved in 2008, the recruitment of retirees from teaching, who were offered full salaries without jeopardizing their pensions.
The Social Security Act was officially recognized as one of the first measures to face the increasingly worrisome problem of the aging of Cuba’s population. Sources with the National Statistics Office indicate that at the end of 2008 more than 16 percent of the inhabitants on the island were 60 years of age or older.
On that same path appeared the approval this past June 26 of a law that modifies work regulations. In it are several measures, including the authorization of workers to hold more than one job and the extension of that opportunity – up to then denied – to students in regular programs from senior high and technical schools to university levels.
According to the official announcement, people of working age will be able to be employed through part-time contracts and receive compensation based on their output. Moreover, this will not compromise their vocational training, educational performance or the execution of social service when they graduate.
“Great,” said Roger Trabas, a 34 year-old computer science specialist who while positively impressed with the whole package of measures is especially glad to see the official authorization to hold more than one job. “I’m thinking that I can get another job as a teacher with a Youth Computer Club,” he said to IPS.
Havana Times translation of excerpts of the original article published in Spanish by IPS.