Cubans worry amid threat of massive job cuts
By Rigoberto Diaz (AFP)
HAVANA — The elimination of 500,000 public sector jobs in six months is
worrying Cubans who have known only the state as an employer, although
some see an opportunity to start a small business with the government's
Among those running scared is Ricardo Aldana, a 46-year-old carpenter,
who says his hair "stands on end" just thinking about losing his job on
a maintenance crew for daycare centers.
"Imagine, 500,000 people: the wheel of luck is crazy and it could land
on you," he said.
The coming layoffs — 10 percent of the work force — are just half the
million state jobs that President Raul Castro wants to eliminate to
boost productivity, the Achilles heel of Cuba's communist economy.
Analysts outside Cuba say the changes are a dramatic departure for a
regime that has been one of the last anti-capitalist holdouts, but
question whether its tiny private sector can absorb so many people so
"We don't know yet what the future holds. It's not an easy thing, a lot
of workers are going to be unemployed," said Lazara Martinez, 45, a
receptionist at an agency in charge of restoration work in old Havana.
The country's sole labor organization said layoffs will begin
immediately and then be phased in over the next six months in all
sectors of the economy, which is 95 percent state-controlled.
Those whose jobs are being eliminated will be offered other jobs in
agriculture or construction, where there is a shortage of labor. If they
turn the offers down, they will receive a month's salary for every
decade they have worked, according to unofficial reports.
Those who lose their jobs will have to find work in the private sector,
in workers' cooperatives or as self-employed freelancers.
About 148,000 Cubans — of a 4.9-million-strong workforce — currently
work on their own account as hairdressers, taxi drivers or
restaurateurs, paying taxes and social security to the government.
But according to unofficial documents circulating at work places, the
government expects to issue 250,000 new permits for 120 types of
businesses — cobblers, shoe shine stands, hairdressers, watch
repairers, mechanics, gardeners, translators, and so on.
Silvia, a 36-year-old computer scientist, is out of work and has turned
down the two alternate job offers the government has made her.
Now, she is planning to start a business renting clothes for birthday
parties, seeing a chance to make more than the average 17-dollar-a-month
salary paid by the state.
"I have never thought about working for myself and really I don't expect
to become a millionaire, just to live better," she said.
Angel Millo, an artisan who has worked for himself since 1993, said
"more private businesses could be positive" for the island's economy,
which is saddled with corruption, an oppressive bureaucracy and the
world's oldest embargo, imposed in 1962 by the United States.
Ricardo Aldana is dubious, though.
"What do I gain by asking for a business license if the state then won't
sell me lumber. They are still going to come to collect their taxes
every month," he said.