Cuban State Company Threatens To Fire Charcoal Makers If They Persist In Their Protest

The charcoal workers have been threatened with losing their jobs if they do not return to work. (Trabajadores)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 January 2021 — The dispute between the workers of the Empresa Integral Agropecuaria de Las Tunas and the directors of that entity has escalated one step further. According to Martí Noticias, the charcoal makers, on strike due to the low wages they received this January, have been threatened by their bosses and State Security itself.

“They were told that if they continued [striking] they would be seen as ‘counterrevolutionaries’ not as workers, and a disciplinary measure could be applied so that they would not work anymore, that is, they would be expelled from the company,” the apostolic pastor Yoel Demetrio told the Miami-based media; Demetrio is the president of the Missionary Church of Cuba, and has served as spokesman for the charcoal makers, whom he is supporting.

The workers were considering denouncing, for theft of wages and corruption, Jaime García Oquendo, director of the company, official of the Ministry of the Interior and former head of prisons in the province, and Vladimir Rodríguez Acosta, a representative of the workers. But, apparently, the threats from the authorities led them to step back from a responsibility that their wives have now assumed.

“A lawyer prepared all the documentation for them and they, with these pressures and fears, did not want to go to the Prosecutor’s Office to file a complaint; however, the women decided to go to court themselves. When they arrived, the prosecutor did not want to receive their claim,” says Demetrio.

After an energetic protest, the Las Tunas Provincial Prosecutor’s Office accepted the complaint and indicated that the deadline for a response is 60 days and that time will start from this Wednesday, when the document was registered.

In addition, the prosecutor informed them that they should go to the company’s Labor Justice Body, where they were received by the head of marketing, Nelson Batista Serrano, and Oquendo himself.

According to the pastor speaking to Radio Martí , both verbally attacked the women for having denounced them before the independent press, which automatically turned them into counterrevolutionaries. They were then warned that their husbands would be summoned to their workplace this Thursday to be told that, if they persisted in striking, they would be fired from their jobs.

The charcoal makers began the strike after having received just 113 pesos this January, to which should be added the advance of 1,000 pesos received in December. The sum of both amounts does not reach half the minimum wage announced by the Government for 2021, which is 1,910 pesos for 40 hours and 2,100 pesos for 44.

In addition, they did not receive the stipend that they usually receive as a bonus in a sector considered strategic by the Government, which from 2005 to 2019 (the last year for which there is consolidated data) has exported more than 266,100 tons of the product, bringing about 100 million dollars to State coffers, about 700 million of which was in 2019.

The company alleges that the drop in exports does not support the payment of benefits, but the workers believe that the company is stealing money that belongs to them.

This protest has been added to that of the Sancti Spíritus stevedores, who have also gone on strike due to the low amount they will receive when the payment per bag loaded is just 0.50 pesos.

Organized protests by state workers have been very unusual in Cuba, where unions are yet another offshoot of the Communist Party. In recent years, the increase in private work has resulted in some notorious protests, such as those staged by taxi drivers or the drivers of the horse drawn coaches used as buses, due to the labor conditions imposed, but the “OrderingTask,” which has increased wages but also prices—in some cases a lot—and this has provoked some sectors to start raising their voices and using the right to strike, won by the labor movements which, paradoxically, the Government denies.


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