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Massive Job Cuts Get Under Way Causing Concern in Cuba

by Kathy Jones on January 8, 2011 at 7:06 PM
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 Massive Job Cuts Get Under Way Causing Concern in Cuba

The economic recession has hit jobs the world over and Cuba is no different.

Leticia Albert is a nurse at a Havana geriatrics center, pulling in just enough to keep her family afloat and worrying what the future will hold if her job will be next on the chopping block.

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"What's coming isn't going to be easy. Where will I go? Besides the concern, I see a lot of uncertainty," the 40-year-old told AFP as the first of half a million government job cuts got underway this week.

Although she complains about her low salary -- 20 dollars per month -- Leticia worries her job is on the line at the Old Havana Geriatrics Center that hired her only four years ago, thinking the government layoff policy is based on job seniority.
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Five colleagues were let go a few months ago when the facility first started downsizing. And while management has yet to announce more layoffs, everybody knows "the second round will be bigger," she said.

"They've got to announce it at a meeting with the workers, and that hasn't happened yet. But we know they're going to get rid of a lot of staff."

Like thousands of other Cubans, Leticia's worries began in October when President Raul Castro announced a series of economic reforms to bring the communist regime up to date.

Pivotal to the changes is cutting more than a million government jobs, or 20 percent of Cuba's entire work force, over the next three years -- including 22,000 jobs in the health sector. Castro said 500,000 jobs would have to go by March 31 of this year.

The first culling of so-called "bloated payrolls" dragging down the Cuban economy began Tuesday in the sugar, farming, construction, health and tourism sectors, as announced by Salvador Valdes, the head of Cuba's only labor union CTC.

"We're not nervous, but certainly worried. It's not something you can just ignore... nobody knows who it's going to touch," said Yanelys Coello, a cashier at the El Escorial cafe, in Havana's historical center, where nobody so far has been fired.

Rolando Garrido, 34, is a doorman at the cafe. He got his agronomy degree in 1995 and shares in the collective concern, but is somewhat optimistic about finding another job.

"There are thousands of unemployed, but I'm well adapted because I can work anywhere. In the worst scenario, I can always go back to farming," he said with a smile.

On making his job-slashing announcement, Valdes said the culling process was in the hands of a panel of experts from all walks of life in Cuba. "We must avoid infractions, paternalism, favoritism and any other negative tendency," he said.

Castro launched a media drive to justify the reforms he said are necessary to improve the efficiency of Cuba's economy, currently 90 percent controlled by the government.

The president vowed that no worker would be "left out."

"In 2011... it's crucial we should continue dealing with all our domestic problems with hard work, the right measure of harshness, but without becoming apocalyptic," Castro said Wednesday from the pages of the official Granma daily.

Alexis Vargas, 42, is a bricklayer waiting for his local union to announce its list of layoffs. But he is not worried.

"I've got a job anywhere," he said, referring to the labor shortage in farming and construction.

As part of the economic reforms the Cuban Communist Party Congress will debate in April, Castro also announced a significant growth of the private sector; the government plans to issue some 180 licenses for small- and medium-sized businesses.

If all goes well, the government by 2015 hopes 50 percent of the country's five million-strong work force will have shifted to the private sector, compared to 824,000 at present.

Source: AFP
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