''I think of all the changes made so far, this one is the most important,'' said Lizette Fernández, a former dissident who campaigned for a change in Cuba's dual currency system until she moved to Hialeah last year. If you worked in an office in Cuba, you often got paid the same as the person who cleaned the office. Slow and lazy people got the same or even more, because the bosses got their jobs through political connections and didn't do any work.'' Realistically, she said, the change could mean as little as 50 cents in a nation where many people make as little as $15 a month. ''Fifty cents may not sound like a lot, but at the end of the month, it's the difference between being able to buy one bar of soap and two bars of soap,'' she said. ``This change offers hope that they will increase salaries even more.'' Cuba has long struggled to kick start a lagging economy plagued with unmotivated and underpaid workers. The measure, first announced in April, is designed to offer incentives to laborers to help turn around low production.
It is part of a series of changes made since Castro took office Feb. 24 with the self-imposed mandate to increase production and save his socialist revolution. But most of Castro's moves so far, such as decentralizing agriculture and offering high-price consumer goods to the public, have detoured from socialism. ''Egalitarianism is not convenient,'' Mateu said. ``It is not fair, because while it is harmful to pay the worker less than what he deserves, it is also harmful to give him what he doesn't deserve.''
Among the law's provisions:
• Workers can get bonuses of as much as 5 percent of their base salary just for meeting production quotas.
• Managers will be limited to a 30 percent wage increase for improved performance.
• Companies have until August to readjust their payrolls, but if any company is ready to make the changes, it can do so immediately.
Wages will vary ''according to the nature of the labor performed by the worker,'' Mateu said. Granma described the process as "the socialist principle of distribution, where everyone [is paid] according to quantity and quality.'' Until now, workers have been paid flat rates according to job descriptions with no incentives.
''I would describe it as a significant departure from the socialist values Cuba has been espousing,'' said Daniel P. Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C. Raúl Castro is also trying to solve a basic problem: Cuba is a country that does not produce much. Recalibrating salaries is a straightforward way to solve that problem." Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, said the new pay system sounds more like another way for the Cuban government to keep tabs on people.
''I have no idea how they plan to measure this and keep track of it, unless it's a new task for the CDR,'' she said, referring to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood watch groups that spy on their neighbors. ''I don't understand how this gives an incentive to work harder,'' she said. ``If they really want to offer incentives, they should go to a market economy and let people keep the fruits of their labor. This is going to require increased surveillance, spying and tattling.''
Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.
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