‘Bosses at State-Owned Businesses Are Living on Another Planet’, Cubans Complain

Manzanillo’s Municipal Department of Labor, where a job fair was held on Monday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo (Granma province), 23 January 2024 — “No private companies were invited? We’re wasting our time,” one young man was heard saying as he left the “job fair” held on Monday at the local headquarters of the Ministry of Labor in this provincial port city in Granma province. Given a choice between accepting a position at a state company or remaining unemployed, the local attendees had only to listen to the job descriptions to realize the potential employers had nothing to offer them.

They had gone to the event — yet another attempt to rejuvenate the public sector workforce, which has been decimated by the loss of personel to the private sector or to emigration – with the hope that the owner of some MSME (micro, small or medium sized business) or self-employed individual might hire them. The focus, however, was unmistakably on the public sector as confirmed by the fact that the event was held at the ministry’s Manzanillo offices.

Instead of talking about salaries, Daniel Rivero, a specialist at the Municipal Department of Labor, preferred instead to focus on the real “benefits” of working for the state: job security, training sessions and community improvement. Still, there was no disguising the terrible working conditions and low pay at places like Manzanillo’s Azcuba subsidiary or the Paquito Rosales tobacco factory. Not to mention the salary — the “tempting” figure of about 6,000 pesos per month — that was being offered to those willing to join a Matanzas construction brigade. Meanwhile, monthly pay for a night watchman was 2,200 pesos while that of an accountant was 3,968. Last on the list were farm workers, who were being asked to toil away for a mere 2,500 pesos a month.

“I am not working for the state just so I can be poor,” murmured one of the attendees, who was wearing pullover with an American flag emblazoned on it. “I just came for the hell of it. The openings are for night watchmen and cigar rollers, both with ridiculous salaries,” claimed another as he was leaving the building.

The public sector is experiencing an unprecedented human resources crisis and needs workers but, unfortunately, has very little to offer them

At this rate, no one is going to get a job,” predicted another participant when told that no independent entrepreneurs or MSME managers would be attending the fair. The most accurate summation of the day was provided by another young man when he learned who the majority of the participants were: “The heads of state companies live on another planet.”

There is one thing, however, that was clear from Rivero’s explanation: the public sector is experiencing an unprecedented human resources crisis and needs workers. Unfortunately, it has very little to offer them. One example can be found in Guantanamo, the neighboring province, where the government has sponsored several job fairs in order to demonstrate the purported success of this initiative.

“Multitudinous… great opportunity… a festival of culture… knowledge.. labor law.” The state media was effusive in its praise of the Guantanamo job fair, which was held on December 8. But behind the accolades hid an alarming number: 2,200 job openings.

To convince attendees to sign on, job fair organizers had to mobilize 518 potential employers, or company leaders, from across the province. They did manage to somewhat “reduce the territory’s unemployment rate,” though state media avoided revealing the number of employement contracts signed during the event. The minister of labor herself, Martha Elena Feitó, announced the job fair on her X account, applauding its results.

Only those who are desperately looking for a job come to listen to what the state has to say on labor issues

It seems job fairs like this are here to stay, at least for the next few months. Companies’ social media pages, state television and government press outlets announce a new one every week in an effort to save the public employment sector. What all of them have in common are low salaries and indifferent attendees.

14ymedio has attended several of these fairs throughout the country. Typically, potential employers wait around until, at the last moment, some straggler shows up and saves the day by accepting a job offer. Only retirees who need to return to the workforce, or young people who are desperately looking a job, come to listen to what the state has to say on labor issues.

Furthermore, all information is conveyed by word of mouth. There is no brochure or copy of a standard contract to clarify the situation in which the future worker will find himself. Blindly, with the vague promise of a salary increase, a few attendees showed up at a job fair at Havana’s Rubén Martinez Villena high school last Saturday. They left no better off than when they arrived. The current salary for a teacher, approximately 5,600 pesos a month, scared off most of the candidates.

It was the same situation last Thursday at the headquarters of the Havana Electric Company. The most attractive salaries went to linemen – a maximum of 12,000 pesos – but the positions were quickly filled. The pay for accountants, inspectors, economists, dispatchers and meter readers — workers whose stampede to the private sector has been unstoppable — did not exceed four figures.


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