Worker Lunch Benefits on the Way Out

By Circles Robinson

The end of subsidized hot lunches for workers is a government cost-cutting measure.
The end of subsidized hot lunches for workers is a government cost-cutting measure.

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 25 – Cubans are used to getting a cheap hot lunch at work which, while nothing fancy, the meal is considered a benefit to their across-the-board low salaries in most offices and businesses.

In a cost-cutting effort and a move a way from subsidies, the government of Raul Castro is hoping to eliminate the low-priced lunch, substituting it with a monetary supplement whereby workers can either bring their sack lunch or try to buy something on the street, reported the Cuban press on Friday.

Workers would receive 15 regular Cuban pesos a day (US $0.75) to either buy or bring their lunch.  The measure would be cost cutting because the government spends considerably more to produce a hot lunch for each employee.

An estimated 3.5 million Cubans currently receive lunch at work and pay an average of one peso (four US cents) for the meal.  The first places where the measure will go into effect as of October 1st are the ministries of Labor, Finance, Internal Commerce and Economy and Planning and then be gradually extended to the entire State administration and business economy.

Minister of the Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo, said another reason for the move is the millions of dollars of food products that are stolen from the food preparation facilities and which feed the black market.

Murillo’s sees workers’ dining areas sprouting up around major workplaces and also notes that some centers will rent out their kitchen facilities to food providers who would then sell meals to the employees.

The Cuban system has operated for decades without taxes for the salaried working class, paying low wages averaging around US $20 a month but heavily subsidizing public utilities, entertainment and a quantity of basic food products as well as providing free health care and education at all levels.

President Castro has repeatedly stressed his preference to gradually eliminate the subsidies and have the worker’s salary take its place as the leading incentive.