When in Cuba Will Wages be Seriously Discussed?

By Peregrino Perez

Bus driver. Photo: George Turner

HAVANA TIMES — If you want to learn something about Cuba’s financial reality, you need to focus on looking at unofficial media. On Cuba is a website that sheds some light on this subject. This media outlet is one of the few digital spaces which deal with what’s happening on the island without bending down before Party guidelines and it hasn’t been blocked yet. We hope it doesn’t get blocked, but there’s no guarantees. 

Articles by renowned Economics professor, Juan Triana, are frequently published on this website. He recently published one that explained the complicated bureaucratic redtape needed for foreign investments to be made in the Mariel Special Development Zone.

I describe myself as an ordinary Cuban, so it was what he said about wages that caught my attention in this article. The existence of difference exchange rates is mindboggling.

How many possibilities for corruption do more than one exchange rate for CUC and CUP allow for? Ordinary Cubans have no idea about this. It’s a taboo subject in national media. That’s why I have become a promoter of the “Juan sin nada” documentary, as it explains such a complex and surreal phenomenon, like quality of life and wages in Cuba, in an entertaining way.

In his article, under the headline Veintiocho, professor Triana suggests that the State be eliminated as an intermediary between employer and employee. Instead of the Government pocketing nearly all of a Cuban worker’s wages, he proposes that they are paid by the employer directly and that the State then charges them taxes. The excuse the government used in the past of this creating inequality is no longer valid, as inequalities are easy to pick up on in Cuba today.

Triana’s proposal is wise, but it’s not innovative in any way. It’s what the rest of the world has been doing for a long time. If this system is repeated in so many other countries, it isn’t because capitalist and market rationale has been imposed like some ideologists want us to believe, but rather because History has proven that it works.

It has been said that an average wage in the public sector is approximately 25 CUC or 600 Cuban pesos. I’m really not convinced by these figures, as they surely don’t account for bonuses or what is “resolved” on the side. However, it is a fact that such limited incomes have created an army of former state employees who have been forced to take jobs in the private sector with awful working conditions, but where they do earn considerably more pay.

For example, in rental homes for international tourism, cleaning staff are paid 2 CUC per day, on average, and they don’t have any of the labor rights like the working class which Cuba’s socialist system’s spokespeople brag about all the time. Generally-speaking, they have to work more than 8 hours, they don’t have leave for sickness or pregnancy and they don’t have a work contract that protects them from becoming unemployed, etc.

Employment is subject to a crude supply and demand relationship, the incarnation of Capitalism at its most brutal which workers aren’t victim to even in countries with governments leaning towards the extreme Right. They can’t demand anything because they always have the opportunity to go back to their old public sector jobs where their labor rights are indeed respected, but they wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of their most basic needs.

I know teachers who clean in their free time (instead of using that time to relax), as it’s the only way they can improve their daily plate or fix an electrical appliance. If fixing up the house is the problem, then you’ll have to put yourself in God’s hands.

Foto: Ghyslaine Peigne

This article written by professor Triana, as well as others, provide possible solutions to our most pressing problems, but nothing is said about the economy “czar” Murillo and his entourage. They are the ones who have the power to implement policies to this effect. Now, they are talking about the corruption of white-collar workers. I don’t need to have classified information to know that people who are now being put on trial for corruption were once exemplary Party members.

You are human before being a Rightist or Leftist, and making mistakes is human. There will always be people who are willing to commit crimes, even more so if you live in a system with a far-reaching and complex bureaucratic apparatus that stands in the way of making financial processes transparent. Plus, if this is a country where corruption has essentially been the only way out of a life full of hardship, then the law is being broken out of need. It doesn’t matter how severe punitive measures and controls are, there will always be corruption.

“Struggling” and “inventing” have been established. They are euphemistic terms that are usually used to refer to the diversion (read here: theft) of State resources, which means they are socially acceptable. People barely react when they read the news of corruption scandals that journalist Barroso exposes. Nothing new on the horizon! No shock and outrage; real public debates take place in common places such as bus stops. There, you can hear many people giving their opinions and agreeing that these are the fish in the middle, the real thieves are further up the power ladder.

Shaping an entire country with stoic people is unrealistic. There is something called quality of life and we all aspire to achieve this with our work. While the issue of poor wages continues to be put off, this is going to be a never-ending story. It’s a vicious cycle.

They tell us that wages can’t increase because the national economy isn’t improving and the GDP isn’t going up because of the low productivity of demotivated workers because of low wages. Who will be brave enough to do something about it? This is the million dollar question.

One thought on “When in Cuba Will Wages be Seriously Discussed?

  • The government are going to keep the Cuban people financially enslaved for as long as the Cuban people continue to tolerate this so repressive government!

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