The State Construction Sector in Cuba Remains Without Workers Due to Flight to the Private Sector

Last week it was announced that 10,000 electrical workers left their positions in 2022, and this Monday the news was amplified with a report on the absence of construction employees, in this case in Sancti Spíritus. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Madrid, March 6, 2023 — The flight of professionals from the state sector in Cuba has become an issue for the official press, which gives figures for a situation that was already known at street level. Last week it was announced that 10,000 electrical workers left their positions in 2022, and this Monday the news was amplified with a report on the absence of construction employees, in this case in Sancti Spíritus.

In the last eight years, the province’s Construction and Assembly Company lost 1,000 workers, 500 of them in 2022. The Ministry of Construction estimates that the province needs at least twice as many personnel as it has at the moment.

In 2015, the entity had 2,426 employees, but emigration and flight to the private sector have left it without manual labor, the official newspaper Escambray said on Monday, “I don’t want to spend my last years of work with a salary that doesn’t even reach 3,000 pesos [$125/month] because how am I going to retire? That’s why I went to an SME [small and medium-sized enterprise], with the expectation that my salary would be increased, which is now triple and sometimes more,” argues one of the former workers, who after 30 years in construction refuses to return because he seeks to “subsist.”

According to Osvaldo Acosta Rodríguez, the company’s head of human resources, there is a lack of incentive to keep workers trained in the sector. “We have a school that still trains workers in the different specialties, but there is no established mechanism to retain those who graduate. The same happens with the inmates who go through school and when they leave the penitentiary center are no longer a responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior or of the Court, which also does not have a legal apparatus for them to stay in construction, even when we give them an evaluation that serves anywhere.”

The lack of employees joins the thousand problems that prevent having the raw material for construction. Hydraulic works, industrial construction, tourism, road works and, of course, the execution of housing programs hang in the balance.

To illustrate the decline of a situation that is in a nosedive, an example: in 2019, 12 category A bricklayers were trained, compared to 2 in 2022. The same figure was achieved in category B, but there was not a single carpenter, plumber, welder, worker or installer. As far as specialists are concerned, if we look at the group of basic trades there were 1,260 at the beginning of the year, of which only 877 have remained.

The newspaper wonders who is going to build in the province if the company that must undertake the largest works is in a situation like the one described. “How then are we to build in the province more than twenty works such as the Meliá Trinidad hotel — which at the time required about a hundred men — or more than 100 homes, with only just over 1,426 builders?” it asks.

“I like my work and have had plenty of offers because I know how to do everything on a construction site, but I have to keep my salary of 3,000 pesos,” argues one of the workers consulted for the article whose only reason to remain in his position is that he works in Fomento, where he also resides. “If there were an SME in my municipality, not just me but the entire brigade would leave for the higher salary,” he says.

The case of these workers is similar to that reported by the staff of the Cienfuegos Carlos Manuel de Céspedes thermoelectric plant. It’s not only about the salary but also the loss of many perks that employees received before. There are now no toiletries or work clothes, nor food at the end of the year, and the job offers for the recreational center are now negligible due to the increase in prices.

Rislander Torres Díaz, director of the Sancti Spiritus company, partly blames the private sector because it’s based on an “unequal situation,” with which the newspaper agrees.

“It’s not far from the truth if you take into account that, although the new forms of management have promoted links with the state on the basis of pre-financing its productions or supplying it with raw materials or other inputs that it can’t find to market its products, they also have other possibilities such as being able to access the foreign market and even pay bills from abroad, and they are able to make their own decisions,” the article says.

The article coincides with the one also published this Monday by Invasor, the official newspaper of Ciego de Ávila, which talks about the depressing situation of the sector. It doesn’t mention the lack of professionals but it does make clear that “the constructive capacity of one’s own effort is superior to the state brigades.”

The province ended the year with only 946 homes completed, 54% of what was planned. Managers, however, are optimistic and believe that 2023 will be better because there are more raw materials in a stable way, and 163 houses have already been delivered so far this year. However, for the whole year, 1,321 are expected to be finished, so the pace must pick up even if the figure has been lowered, compared to the figure for 2022, which was 1,757.

According to the media, at the end of 2022, 900 total building collapses “caused by meteorological events” still remained, and Hurricane Irma, which happened more than five years ago, was mentioned. A third of the households in Ciego de Ávila were in “regular or bad condition,” and there were 40,000 with “logical and demographic needs.”

In addition, the article clarifies that there are thousands of properties that must be rehabilitated and that these works need professional skills, because they must take into account the deterioration and know how to solve it, a task that does not seem within the reach of any attempt “by one’s own effort.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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