HAVANA — The reflections and comments I’ll make this time are motivated by events that recently came to the fore in several Cuban and foreign media.
First came the news, published by Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, that a French company entrusted with the construction of a hotel in Havana had hired workers from India.
Maybe the most remarkable aspect of this, drawing the attention of many, was the express acknowledgment that Indian workers are more productive and efficient than Cuban workers.
The nation’s second-largest newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, quoted an executive of a Cuban firm saying that the productivity of Indian workers is three to four times greater than the national average.
What the Cuban press did not say was that Cuban builders (and in general all workers, professional or not) find it impossible to be hired directly by the foreign companies operating on the island even if the companies wish to hire them and they are in agreement with the contractual conditions.
I think we should ask ourselves what the output of a Cuban worker would be if he could earn wages similar to — or even slightly lower than — the wages collected by foreign workers who labor in Cuban territory.
We’d have to see the levels of efficiency and productivity of a compatriot if he could charge, for example, 1,500 convertible pesos (CUC) per month, which is what the Indians charge, or even only 500 CUCs. There can be no comparison for the simple reason that the same parameters are not applied in analogous situations.
More recently, I was drawn to the fact that the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) enacted a resolution (GOC-2016-978-EX40) that allows the concessionaires and operators established in the Mariel Special Development Zone to hire up to 15 percent of their labor force from foreign persons who do not live in Cuba.
The resolution states that these people must hold supervisory posts (e.g., managers of specific areas) or some technical jobs. In the latter case, we might think of specialists with knowledge and experience in the productive or service processes of the companies established in Mariel.
The Cuban press picked up this news, generating the most diverse comments.
Since the Mariel project was first discussed in the official discourse, the official media and the experts, it was said that among its benefits was the possibility of creating new and varied jobs. I don’t doubt that that can be achieved.
However, I wonder if between the mechanisms that exist for the hiring of national workers — who, we all know, can be hired only through employment agencies — and the possibility of hiring foreigners, aren’t we pushing the Cuban labor force down to a level of inferiority?
Nobody can expect competitiveness between people who don’t receive the same wages even if they perform the same job.
Besides, I believe that behind this panorama there may lie a more complex reality for the present and future of Cuba. While we allow the possibility that the Mariel companies hire foreigners directly, we have in Cuba professional youngsters who are as capable as anyone else. And the worst of all is that they emigrate every day to wherever they’re led by their desire for personal wellbeing.
This is a desire that they cannot satisfy, among many reasons because to most of them it is impossible to gain access to the foreign private sector of our economy. Many of them don’t know how; others are not dependable enough to be on the rosters of the employment agencies, and others are handicapped by the fact that their specialties are not needed by the companies settling in Cuba.
It is easy to criticize those who leave the country chasing a better future. It’s even simpler to brand as “defectors” those who emigrate after they’ve found jobs and a future in specific fields that suit their training best.
But nobody has thought of eliminating every political, administrative and mental barrier (the worst) to the possibility that Cubans can be hired without any mediators by companies from other countries operating here.
And among those who remain we must consider the thousands who, with a well-earned college diploma, work in the most diverse private activities: chauffeurs in vintage taxis or waiters in restaurants.
In view of this, isn’t it better for the foreign companies to specialize our professionals, through the proper training, so they may work for them? In terms of wages, it would be more beneficial since they would pay high wages to the foreign trainer for a brief period yet they would not pay the same monthly amount to the Cuban trainee.
Isn’t it preferable to let everyone charge in accordance to what the companies are willing pay them? That way we could prevent them from leaving.
According to Article 45 of the Constitution, work in the socialist society is a right, a duty and a source of honor for each citizen. It is “remunerated according to its quality and quantity. Furnishing it satisfies the exigencies of the economy and society, the choice of the worker and his ability and qualifications.”
I won’t attempt to make an exhaustive analysis of that article and, assuming that many phenomena today run against the virtuality of its contents, I think that the efforts to update our economy should be directed more to complying with its postulate.
To sum up, if we must consider the choice of worker, his abilities and qualifications, well then, let’s eliminate the mechanisms that hinder those choices so their capabilities and knowledge reach their highest expression.
Maybe the day we manage to make those adjustments we won’t have workers from India erecting hotels in Havana or lawyers and engineers driving taxis or serving tables.
Lawyer Raudiel F. Peña Barrios is a professor at the University of Havana.