14ymedio, Havana, February 9, 2021 — “Are you calling about work in the public sector?” asks a voice on the other end of the phone at one of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s employment offices in Havana’s Cotorro district. “You have to bring your I.D. to look at the job openings we have,” explains the employee.
She is talking to a young man who graduated three years ago in accounting. He had been working for only a few months at a privately owned business. The opening that best fits his profile is with the Pasture and Forage Research Institute, far from his place of residence, which does not appeal to him.
“I called because they told me the job included transportation but the salary was less than I wanted. What they were going to pay me would only have covered some groceries, the electricity and a few other small things. The problem was I would have had to be there for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, without time to find something else on the side to make ends meet,” he explains. “I’ll keep looking.”
The young accountant is one of 92,651 Cubans who have sought employment since new salaries were announced following monetary unification. So far, however, only 52% have accepted available job offers.
As a result of the national economic crisis, monetary unification and a long shutdown of the private sector, even formerly undesirable positions in the public sector are starting to look more attractive, though prejudices against working for the state remain. In interviews with 14ymedio at least a dozen people said they were “looking for something in the short term, without a long-term commitment.”
“I want a job so that I’m not stuck at home with nothing to do, making no money, but only until the paladar (private restaurant) where I worked as a waiter reopens. Once I can go back to working for a private business, you won’t see me at a state job anymore,” admits Mauricio, a young man who until a few months ago was waiting tables at a privately owned restaurant on Infanta Street.
“In a private sector job I work more but I feel better. The salary is one thing I notice on a day-to-day basis, in things I can buy and pleasures I can afford. Plus, there are no trade union meetings or murals,” he points out. “But something is better than nothing, so for now I’ll have to take some state job, though I haven’t liked any of the listings I’ve seen so far.”
A position as a night watchman or custodian at a Havana clinic pays a 2,200 pesos a month and requires a ninth-grade education. The difficult job of railroad repairman pays 2,960 while that of a driver for the Havana port facilities pays 2,540. Most of the available jobs require a great amount of physical effort, are in blue collar fields and, as such, are more suited to people who are young and in good health. But there are also listings in banking, auditing and design.
Employment listings vary by search area. For example, Plaza of the Revolution, with its high concentration of government ministries, has few listings, with most being clerical or service related. Guanabacoa only has listings for truck drivers, mechanics and crane operators. Meanwhile, in Central Havana there are at least three listings for tobacconists at salaries ranging from 2,660 to 2,810 pesos a month.
According to a recent report by academic Carmelo Mesa-Lago, given the choice between closing money-losing state companies or doing “fictitious monetary reform,” Cuban authorities opted for the latter and have decreed “a transition period of one year, during which time companies operating at a loss will continue to be subsidized in order to adjust to the new conditions, avoid unemployment and guarantee the production of essential goods.”
“We’ve been told to hire more people,” explains an employee of Cuba Petróleo (Cupet), “but all we have are positions for which there is very little interest, such as for instructors in our training center. We don’t have anything at gas stations. Some of our staff are working remotely or getting paid without really doing much of anything. How are we going to hire more people under these conditions?”
Between the months of April and October last year some 150,000 workers were unemployed due to business shutdowns resulting from Covid-19, though they continued collecting their salaries. Some 250,000 freelancers and private sector businesspeople also suspended their licenses. That is a total of 400,000 workers, 8.7% of the active workforce.
Despite official figures which predict there will be 32,000 new job openings this year, with at least 22,000 in the public sector, voices like those of Mesa-Lago predict a more uncertain outlook in which “total unemployment could exceed 30%.” It is possible, however, that “if self-employment is allowed to expand without obstacles or excessive taxes, it could absorb state unemployment.”
It is a complicated task given that Covid-19 has been especially damaging to this sector. The economist Pedro Monreal warned on Twitter that although “there is insufficient date, available information suggests that the self-employed labor market has been the segment most strongly impacted by the economic crisis linked to the pandemic.”
Monreal explains that the the negative impact is being caused by “the relatively high dependence of private sector employment on tourism… hindering the recovery of private [economic] activity.” And indications are that the number of foreign visitors to the island is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.
To facilitate the search for employment, the government has launched a mobile app, TrabajarEnCuba, with listings in both the private and public sectors. However, problems such as sudden crashes, security alerts on the Android operating system indicating it has not been validated for the Google Play store and a scarcity of listings for private sector jobs have caused many users to give up on it.
“I downloaded it and it worked for two days, but not after that,” noted a commentator on an official site that promoted TrabajarEnCuba. “I found out about a job but when I went went to see the human resources manager, I was told me that they weren’t hiring for that position,” complains another by the name of Lázaro. Although 14ymedio has not found any job openings at privately owned companies in the Havana municipalities of Plaza, Central Havana or Old Havana, official data indicate that up to 35% of the positions being offered are in the private sector, 17% of which are in cooperatives.
Other workers have, nevertheless, managed to find employment opportunities in spite of the app’s technical problems. “I was interested in a bank supervisor’s position at the Focsa Building, which is close to my house,” says Maylin. “If they accept me, it will be the first time in fifteen years that I have worked for the state. I used to be a housewife and, until not long ago, a self-employed hair stylist.”
This Havana resident’s plan is “to keep working until things get back to normal and then reopen the hair salon.” For now, however, she says that “it’s better to work for the state than not because no one knows how long this will last.”
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