HAVANA, Cuba. – A survey undertaken by Asociación Sindical Independiente de Cuba (Independent Labour Association of Cuba, ASIC by its Spanish acronym), among state workers from the tourism industry corroborated that many of these workers were facing labour “difficulties”, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Cuba.
The non-governmental organization has compiled several testimonies by tourism sector employees who condemn the violation of their labour rights.
“Some of these workers have been sanctioned, others have been made to work for Public Health or fulfill responsibilities during the COVID period,” explained to CubaNet Emilio Alberto Gottardi, one of ASIC’s coordinators.
According to Gottardi’s testimony, the labour organization did not conduct the survey “in the traditional way (through) a printed questionnaire. Instead, we conducted it by holding conversations with affected workers, or through visual means.”
As part of its work, ASIC also provides attention and counseling to workers who denounce violations of their labour rights. According to Gottardi, “They have reported to us a considerable number of difficulties that, as employees, they have endured from the very beginning in the tourism industry.”
Among these testimonies, Gottardi mentioned the one given by a Cuban woman employed at the Habana Libre Hotel, whose identification he kept confidential so as not to cause her harm from retaliation. It was demanded of her to begin working in the Public Health sector for lack of tourists. She was warned that, if she refused to do so, she could lose her job in the tourism sector.
Gottardi also told us that this woman’s employers demanded that she, a nurse by profession, submit political recommendations before they would hire her.
“When she left her job as a nurse and began working in the tourism sector, the first thing they asked her was for recommendations from the Interior Ministry (MININT), the Cuban Communist Party, and proof that she was a true “revolutionary,” Gottardi emphasized.
According to Gottardi, this woman was also sexually harassed due to her physical appearance. “On various occasions, she has been harassed due to her figure. They have even offered her guarantees that she would get promoted (on her physical appearance alone)”.
Gottardi also spoke to us about a driver from the tourism sector as well, who was sanctioned for not taking back a complaint he had made against his employer’s company, which he had accused of committing “errors”.
“He was told that he was not the ideal worker, that he could not hold those opinions and that they would not let him continue working there. They told him: ‘If you don’t take back what you’ve said, we will sanction you,’ and they did, for six months. Then COVID hit and he hasn’t been able to work since,” explained Gottardi.
He also told us he knew about people buying-off positions in the tourism sector, although he admitted that the people involved don’t want to talk about it, for fear of reprisals.
“We have received specific information about this, but in general, workers don’t want to talk about it for fear of losing the job if they still have it, or they simply don’t want to reveal what they did to get that particular job,” he indicated.
Gottardi also talked about the issue of tips, which tourism employees, unlike workers in other sectors, receive. They end up with a decent income thanks to the tips from foreign tourists.
“Tourism sector workers do not make good salaries, although it is a better salary than in other sectors. Their real income comes from tips. In many cases, they pool the tips and then, at the end of the week, the tips are divided, allegedly equally, among the workers (in their area),” Gottardi explains.
“In spite of the fact that salaries have increased, the raise does not correlate with the tasks these workers perform. In addition, if they have a problem, or break anything in the course of their work, the cost of the item gets deducted from their salary,” he added.
Gottardi also pointed out that in the independent sector of the self-employed, the situation is worse because the prices for supplies are very high. Self-employed entrepreneurs must buy their supplies in hard currency –US dollars- and those prices fluctuate from one day to the next. As of now, one US dollar is valued at more than 60 Cuban pesos.
“Prices go up, and the self-employed small entrepreneurs do not have wholesalers from whom to purchase raw materials. Everything must be bought in the hard-currency-only markets, where prices are extremely high.”
Editor’s Note: This report was done in collaboration with the International Republican Institute (IRI).
Read in spanish here.
Recibe la información de CubaNet en tu celular a través de WhatsApp. Envíanos un mensaje con la palabra “CUBA” al teléfono +1 (786) 316-2072, también puedes suscribirte a nuestro boletín electrónico dando click aquí.