HAVANA, Cuba. – Civil engineer Jesús González worked for 622 Cuban pesos a month (equivalent to US$ 25 at the official exchange rate) plus an additional “salary stimulus” of 30 CUCs (US$ 30) between September 2011 until March of this year when he opted for early retirement for medical reasons. Fifty-seven-year old Jesús claimed to be suffering from a medical condition that actually he does not have because it was the only way he was able to cancel his contract with the employment agency that contracted him to work for Bouygues Bâtiment International (BBI); to be discharged from the Military Constructions Union (UCM); and to not lose the seniority earned during the many years he worked for them.
Although in November 2020 he got a raise in accordance with the new salary policy approved by the regime, the alleged “benefits” came at the same time the CUC was taken out of circulation. The salary stimulus –although illegal- disappeared, that extra money that although insufficient in light of today’s economic inflation, at least supplemented his low construction-worker’s salary.
According to Jesús González himself, a significant number of UCM workers has decided to quit the military company after realizing that there are no benefits or salary- raises forthcoming that could help relieve the poverty they now live under, contrary to previous years. Today’s outlook is even worse because working conditions are not getting better, on the contrary, they are worse every day.
However, González’s case is similar to that of other specialized construction workers which make up the number 12 Brigade. This unit, although not affiliated to UCM, works, under contract with Gaviota S.A. employment agency for the French company Bouygues (BBI) in the construction of several hotels in Havana. The money for the salaries of Cuban workers does not come directly from the Cuban military but instead from the foreign construction company that deposits, on a monthly basis, 1,700 Euros for each worker, in accordance with the foreign investment labor protocols outlined in Resolution 33.
However, not even a tenth of that money reaches the workers’ pocket, and also not in the same currency in which Bouygues makes re gular deposits in Gaviota S.A.’s account with Banco Financiero International (BFI), a bank that is also under the management of the GAESA military conglomerate, which owns it.
In spite of the fact that salaries are set through agreements between the employing agency and the foreign-capital company, taking into account the complexity, the working conditions and the responsibilities of each job category, the truth is that, in the end, the Cuban intermediaries impose their own terms and conditions –always unfavorable to workers- and these are accepted without question or negotiation by the foreign investor.
A Bouygues foreign official has explained to CubaNet, under condition of anonymity, details about the hiring process, about the actual salaries paid to the workers it employs, and about the process of issuing payments to the intermediary agency for workers’ salaries.
According to this official, “In our case, it’s different from what happens with other foreign companies (located in Cuba). We establish the agreement with Gaviota S.A., but it’s Gaviota that requests the workers from UCM (…). Our responsibility is to pay the employment agency, but we only get the work force that UCM makes available to us. Since it’s a military company, the selection is made by Gaviota from its own workforce, even though we are the ones making deposits at BFI. (…) Without a doubt, this is a form of subcontracting, because the worker stays with the same salary he was paid at UCM, although there was, until the middle of last year, the supplementary 30 CUCs paid to each worker out of our own initiative (…). That extra pay was suspended by UCM, and not by us. It was simply forbidden. We continue making those payments at our own risk to a segment of the personnel that we don’t want to lose, especially to management personnel and certain specialists.”