HAVANA – The Cuban government will start experimenting in October with the elimination of no-charge “workers’ cafeterias,” because of their expense to the government and employees’ criticism of their quality.
The Communist Party daily Granma said Friday that the measure will be implemented first in the Ministries of Labor and Social Security, Finance and Prices, Interior Commerce, and Economy and Planning, and “will be extended gradually to the whole country” upon validation.
In compensation, the affected workers will receive a workday stipend to cover meal expenses, which will only be paid when the employee is on the job.
The measure is one of the reforms promoted by Cuban President Raul Castro to eliminate what he called “unjustified and highly subsidized gratuities” that exist on the island and that are out of line with the country’s economic possibilities.
Granma said that more than 3.5 million Cubans – out of a total population of 11 million – go every day to workers’ cafeterias, a feature of most state agencies, companies and factories in the country, and one that costs the government more than $350 million in rice, grains, meat and oil alone.
The daily said that this figure “constitutes a severe expense for the government due to the extremely high prices on the international market and the infinity of subsidies and gratuities” in the country, where the average salary is around $17 a month.
The newspaper said that this is not just a question of money, because Cuban workers “are not happy with the quality, quantity and presentation of the food they get every day” at subsidized prices.
Economy Minister Marino Murillo told Granma that a study carried out by the government in most of the workers’ cafeterias dining rooms in 2008 detected “excessive inventory” amounting to 32,000 tons of food.
Among the causes for this was the “lack of awareness of the real number of diners and the poor control over resources, a situation that on many occasions leads to robbery and the consequent ‘supplying’ of the black market,” he said.
The minister also said that the new stipend for meals should not be expected to last a lifetime and “could be eliminated when conditions are different from those that now determine its approval.”
Cuba is suffering its worst economic slump since the early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union brought an end to generous subsidies from Moscow. EFE