14ymedio, Havana, 27 February 2023 — Every day, more workers in the state electricity sector leave their jobs in Cuba. In the first six months of 2022, 21 a day left their jobs; in the following three months, while the country was experiencing the prolonged blackouts of the summer, the number was 26 a day. In total, 8,089 workers ceased their activities in the first nine months of last year, and at this rate, it is estimated that there were about 10,000 by the end of the year.
The figure, provided this Sunday in an article in the state newspaper Trabajadores, makes 2021 look pale, when 6,612 electricians left their jobs. The text does not mention migration and refers only to the exodus to the private sector, personified in an industrial mechanic from Cienfuegos, José Manuel Hernández, who nostalgically remembers his 20 years at the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes thermoelectric plant but left because of the tiny salary he received.
“The money I earned didn’t help me at all. Then a friend told me he was forming a small private company, one of those they call SMEs,* to produce food, and I went with him. Now my salary is more than double what I earned at the plant,” he reveals in the middle of a heartfelt story about his love for the factory.
According to the author of the text, the general secretary of the union bureau of the thermoelectric plant, Carlos Rafael Quintero Cabrera, said at the last Plenary of the Provincial Committee — held at the end of December — that there were more than 40 vacant jobs in the plant and that the effort to generate electricity was enormous. “Workers have to feel materially and morally stimulated,” he said.
The trade unionist then stated that an attempt was made to increase the qualification of those who were studying, but the training courses have been going on for up to five years. “The concern is how we are going to retain that workforce because they are leaving for the SMEs,” he said.
Last October, Cuban television broadcast a report from the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, in Matanzas, in which one of its workers, Yoandry Flores, head of the block and a control room operator, attributed to the Ordering Task** the wage collapse in the sector. “Mostly, the operations personnel decide to leave because of the cutbacks in wages. At one point, before the reorganization, we were one of the companies that was most favored in terms of salaries, and workers could meet their needs. After the reorganization we fell to a lower level,” he said.
Salaries, after the implementation of the Ordering Task in January 2021, were between 4,000 and 8,000 pesos ($167-333) per month for workers in the electrical industry, although with options to increase pay according to their jobs, in addition to the company’s ability to increase wages according to efficiency, results and other concepts.
But the article in Trabajadores speaks of a drop in staff that dates back to the last four years. Ulises Guilarte De Nacimiento, a member of the Political Bureau of the Party and Secretary General of the Central Union of Workers, referred to that period and warned of the need to address the situation. “You can’t be indifferent to union work, which means to the tasks proposed by the Government, and they must receive prioritized attention,” he explained.
George Batista Pérez, General Secretary of the National Union of Energy and Mines, told the newspaper in the middle of last year that there was “a very serious problem in the sector.”
“The labor fluctuation is linked to the difficulties with food, transportation and salary. Decree 53 offered a salary increase for efficiency, but it did not cover expectations from the distribution of profits,” said the official, who also pointed out that the Ordering Task was a turning point for the sector. As he explained, some of the traditional benefits of employees in the electricity sector were abolished with the new rules.
Among them, he cited the fall in piecework payment due to the lack of financing (the result of the lack of resources), the shortage of funds that would allow the distribution of profits and the lack of money for technological improvements that would alleviate the workload. “As a result of all this, working conditions have only worsened. But the allowance for the purchase of food has also been eliminated, and the workers who had a differentiated offer are totally unprotected if the high prices approved are taken into account.”
The union that leads, the article says, has proposed 12 actions to recover the morale of its workers and avoid the constant loss, but when it comes to finalizing the proposals, they seem rather theoretical. They include the “establishment of a system of care and follow-up with the administrative directorates for the gradual and systematic improvement of the working and living conditions of workers; the realization of emulation checks*** with the required frequency; the review and evaluation of collective labor agreements; and payment for high performance.”
The article, which comments that time must pass in order to see the effectiveness of these approaches, adds that in the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes thermoelectric plant, something visible and immediate is being done: a new system to increase salaries. But no details are given, nor is it known how it’s working.
The workers in the electricity sector are under constant stress due to the situation of the National Energy System and the constant efforts they must make, with fewer hands, throughout the Island. This Sunday the power generation deficit again recorded high numbers, up to 513 megawatts at peak time, 7 p.m.
The population of the eastern area of the country experienced four prolonged blackouts in the 10 days between February 13 and 22, and their discomfort was reflected on social networks. “The month of March 2023 was the same as March 2022. Please use empathy, put yourself in the place of those in the middle of eastern Cuba! Use intelligence. We have been a year without rest, without tranquility, because in December and January, when we had electricity, there was stress and the fear that we would have another blackout. Seek help from experts around the world if we don’t have it here; let’s not be so proud and self-sufficient and inefficient,” exclaims an electricity customer with whom most users agree.
The Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy, announced two weeks ago that an attempt would be made to cushion the situation for half of the Island, starting in March, with the return of the Lidio Ramón Pérez thermoelectric plant, from Felton, in Mayarí (Holguín) and the transfer to the south of one of the eight patanas, the floating Turkish generators, located north of the Island. But almost no one expects any patch to give results at this point, and the heat season is already lurking.
*SMEs are small and medium sized private businesses.
**The Ordering Task is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency, which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.
***Emulation is the need to equal or surpass others to achieve something, a kind of socialist competition.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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