Monday, September 20, 2010

Cuba summons workers to explain coming layoffs

September 20, 2010, 2:32PM ET text size: TT
Cuba summons workers to explain coming layoffs


Cuba is calling workers across the island to special meetings so labor
leaders can brief them on half a million government layoffs coming in
the next six months and suggest ways that those fired can make a living.

The "workers' assemblies" that began on Sept. 15 include hundreds of
meetings with state employees in union halls, government auditoriums and
even basements or garages of state-run companies, according to a report
Monday in the state-run labor union newspaper Trabajadores.

The proceedings are closed and attendees so far have been tight-lipped
about what is being discussed. But Salvador Valdes Mesa, head of the
nearly 3 million-member Cuban Workers Confederation, said they are
designed to tell workers about "the labor policies that will govern the
country in order to achieve the structural changes the economy needs."

"We are confronting the need to make our economy more efficient, better
organize production, increase worker productivity and identify the
reserves we have," Valdes Mesa was quoted as telling a weekend gathering
of transportation and port employees in the eastern province of Holguin.

During the meetings, workers are asked to vote in favor of the reforms,
meaning they will be officially endorsed by some of the very Cubans who
may lose their jobs.

Cuba announced on Sept. 13 that it would lay off 500,000 workers by
March and loosen state controls on private enterprise so that many of
those fired can find new jobs. It said it would also beef up the tax
code and revamp state pay scales to better reward high job performance.

President Raul Castro warned in April that as many as 1 million Cuban
state employees -- a fifth of a total island work force of 5.1 million
-- may be superfluous.

The president has not commented publicly since the reforms were
announced, though he has said authorities have no intention of
abandoning the socialist state they spent decades building.

Instead, preparing workers for what's to come has fallen to Valdes
Mesa's union, which is allied with the Communist Party and the only one
the government allows.

Some of the meetings include just a few employees from a single office.
Others involve hundreds from a whole city neighborhood.

An internal Communist Party document detailing the unprecedented
overhaul envisions a radically reshaped economy, freshly legalized
private cooperatives and a state payroll trimmed of many idle or
unproductive workers.

The document says many laid-off workers will be urged to form private
cooperatives. Others will go to work for foreign-run companies or set up
their own small businesses in fields such as transportation, food and
house rental.

Already, 144,000 Cubans work for themselves and 823,000 overall are part
of the private sector, though that includes vast farm cooperatives run
in accord with state administrative decisions. The government still
employs the other 84 percent of the official work force.

Government workers take home an average of about $20 per month, though
the state provides free education and health care and subsidizes
housing, utilities, transportation and food. The layoffs will affect all
corners of the government except those considered "indispensable."

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