HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba announced Monday it will cast off at least half a million state workers by early next year and reduce restrictions on private enterprise to help them find new jobs — the most dramatic step yet in President Raul Castro’s push to radically remake employment on the communist-run island.
Castro had suggested during a nationally televised address last Easter that as many as one million Cuban workers — about one in five — might be redundant. But the government had not previously laid out specific plans to slash its workforce, and the speed and scope of the coming cutbacks were astounding.
Cuba’s official workforce is 5.1 million — meaning nearly 10 per cent of all employees could soon be out of a government job.
Workers caught off guard by the announcement said they worried whether the tiny private sector could support so many new jobs, a sentiment echoed by some analysts.
“For me the problem is the salaries, that’s the root of it,” said Alberto Fuentes, a 47-year-old government worker. “If they fire all of these people, how can they all become self-employed?”
The layoffs will start immediately and continue through April 2011, according to a statement from the nearly three-million-member Cuban Workers Confederation, which is affiliated with the Communist party and the only labour union allowed by the government. Eventually the state will only employ people in “indispensable” areas such as farming, construction, industry, law enforcement and education.
To soften the blow, the statement — which appeared in state newspapers and was read on television and radio — said the government would increase private-sector job opportunities, including allowing more Cubans to become self-employed.
They also will be able to form co-operatives run by employees rather than government administrators, and increasingly lease state land, businesses and infrastructure.
The announcement was short on details of how such a major shift could be achieved, but its intent appeared to deal a body-blow to the decades-old social safety net upon which the island’s egalitarian society is built.