By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer
Cuba announced a major increase in government salaries Wednesday, saying days after President Fidel Castro declared war on the nation’s “new rich” that it wanted to reward workers with high productivity and advanced university degrees.
The Communist Party daily Granma said on its front page that higher-level workers unaffected by a minimum wage increase in May would be eligible for productivity payments and bonuses for having a master’s or doctorate.
The announcement appeared aimed easing state workers’ lives in a country where many have been engaging in illegal side activities to make ends meet.
Castro last week announced a crackdown on Cubans who make a living stealing gasoline and other state goods, as well as those the government reluctantly licensed as self-employed tradesmen or private restaurant owners during tougher economic times.
In a speech, Castro complained that the “new rich” corrupt state workers and take advantage of cheap utilities and other subsidies while enjoying hefty profits from their private ventures.
“It is a fundamental principle of the revolution to raise workers’ income, beginning with those perceived to have the lowest salaries, and from there progressively eliminate the social differences that increased during the special period,” the party daily said, referring to the measures adopted during the severe financial crisis brought on by the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Cuba also announced it would increase its heavily subsidized utility rates for households using large amounts of electricity. Households registering less than 100 kilowatts monthly will continue to pay a fraction of a cent each month.
The wage increases announced Wednesday seem small in U.S. terms but will likely be welcomed by higher-level government workers.
Cuba’s minimum wage was increased by more than 100 percent in May, from about $5 to about $11. More than 1.6 million workers benefited from the raise but several million higher-level employees did not.
Granma said these would be the first pay increases in 23 years for some.
Although low by international standards, Cuban salary figures can be misleading in a country where most people do not pay for their housing, utilities or transportation. Health services and education are free, other government services are heavily subsidized and everyone receives about a third of their food each month for less than $3.
Government employees with a master’s degree or similar achievement level will receive between $1.50 and $4 more each month. Doctors will get as much as $7.40 extra in each monthly paycheck.
Employees in workplaces with especially high productivity will be eligible for extra bonuses ranging from $3.70 to $9.90 a month.
Pensions for retired people, which were increased to $7.40 a month in May, will now be increased to a minimum of $8.
The government’s social assistance payments for families with members who are unemployed, disabled, handicapped or on maternity leave will also be increased.