Cane Cutters Complain about Their Working Conditions

Corte de caña en Cuba. (Conexión Cubana)
Cane cutting in Cuba (Conexion Cubana)

The recently concluded sugar harvest failed to fulfill production forecasts. Analysts have struggled to explain the reasons for the repeated failure and have spoken of incomplete or ineffective repairs and poor organization, but none have mentioned the social factor.

Workers involved in cutting cane in Holguin complained of the abandonment to which they were subjected and multiple violations of their labor rights during the harvest that just ended.

Members of the Basic Economic Unit from the Loynaz Hechavarria center from the Cueto municipality say they worked more than 16 hours a day beginning at five in the morning during the four months of the harvest. 

Heriberto Cuenca Tamayo, operator of a cane combine, told  14ymedio that his brigade had been victim of labor law violations and they were the group that suffered most: in spite of intense heat during these months, they had no cold water for lack of ice. Nor did they receive the promised work clothes, and they ate what they could manage on their own since they were not even provided coffee.

He mentioned that the enterprise is still in default on the incentive pay in convertible currency that is due the members of the team under the labor contract. He also lamented the lack of technical assistance that would have helped with the combine breakdowns during the cane cutting. They are only paid as operators, but they also had to act as mechanics, work for which they are not qualified.

“We were on our own when the machines broke, and in order to continue working we had to personally manage the parts and the repair,” Cuenca Tamayo told this daily.

Together with his companions, he said he felt unprotected. The bosses only speak of obligations, order, discipline and demands. “When they say to do more with less, it seems that they are thinking of more effort and worse conditions, more duties and fewer rights.”

“Neither the Constitution nor any other Cuban law legally establishes the right to strike, but nor did the union solve our problems in spite of raising them on several occasions,” said this cane worker.

For his part, Mario Gonzalez, harvest boss for the Azucarera Company, said that Holguin failed to meet the sugar production plan by not reaching the projected figure of 207,801 tons, lacking almost 4,000 tons to achieve the goal. In this harvest the province milled with only five of the ten sugar refineries it has had since 2002.

The official explained that among the causes that led to the failure are the breakdowns of the combines, the refinery stoppages for lack of cane caused by the late arrival of squads to the cutting fronts, and others of an organizational nature. “There was enough cane in the fields, but it was not known how to get it to the centers,” asserted Mario Gonzalez on a local radio program.

Translated by MLK

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