Medical professionals are not the only slaves the communist Castro dictatorship is selling abroad to generate revenue, they sell Cubans as slave labor in other industries as well. The story of these three Cubans exposes the Cuban regime’s slave trade in cruise ship labor, where they work for a fraction of their actual wages with the government keeping the rest and the threat of banishment if they escape.
Wage plundering, threats, corruption: the Cuban dream of working on cruise ships turned into a nightmare
Three former Cuban crew members reveal to DIARIO DE CUBA situations as dire as those suffered by health personnel exported by the regime on its so-called ‘missions.’
In Cuba, having a job that involves traveling abroad has for decades been tantamount to winning the lottery. Sailors and cruise ship employees are considered fortunate. These workers are not required to pass mandatory political courses, unlike the health professionals that the Cuban regime exports, and they also are not barred from interacting with crew members and passengers from other countries. But this is where the differences end between the conditions under which cruise ship personnel and medical staff on supposed “medical missions” work.
Like their white-coated compatriots, the regime charges these employees dearly for the privilege of traveling and earning salaries in dollars that allow them to meet their needs and those of their families better than those who work in Cuba.
Three Cubans who worked for different cruise companies – whose identities we protect here through the use of fictitious names – tell their stories to DIARIO DE CUBA. Common denominators include being stripped of their salaries, receiving threats, and dealing with the Cuban employment agency SELECMAR.
This state-owned company, founded in 1995, selects and hires Cuban personnel at the request of foreign companies to offer services aboard cruise ships, ferries and other vessels. No Cuban crew member, whether a sailor or food service employee, can contract with these foreign companies on their own.
Laura worked first for MSC Cruises and later for the Turkish company Miray. She says that she used her passport to travel and then they retained it on the vessel.
80% of her salary was withheld, but in July 2020 the Government approved a package of rules published in Ordinary Official Gazette 48 that gave cruise ship staff hopes for improvement.
According to these rules, the Government decided to “consider maritime workers salaried employees abroad, such that they would receive 100% of the total salary” paid by the foreign employer on contracts previously determined by SELECMAR.
It was also approved to apply a Personal Income Tax on a sliding scale, between 15% and 30%, of what is accrued by these workers.
According to the official Cubadebate website, SELECMAR continued to have a monopoly on contracts and all sailors were obliged to contract their services. Laura had to repay almost all the money to the Cuban State.
“In the end, we had to pay almost everything in Cuba, because they considered us what is called ‘freelancers’ here (in Spain). We had to pay the State as if we were from the private sector. We even had to pay for all the paperwork at the agency (SELECMAR).”
To leave Cuba, Laura had to sign a document in which she promised to return. If she does not, she will not be able to enter the country for at least five years.
“You had to sign that paper; otherwise, you couldn’t leave. They did that because all (the employees) ended up staying (they took advantage of a stopover to abandon the cruise),”explains Laura, who ended up making the same decision as many colleagues, despite the consequences. Now she will wait the five years to elapse to be able to travel to Cuba and see her family again.
Alexander also worked for MSC Cruises and said he received between 480 and 520 euros in cash, which was between 20%-25% of his real salary.
“We, the bar and restaurant employees, received the same total amount as foreigners, a basic salary of about 1,900 euros. Foreigners received all the money in an account of their choice, and were shocked at what happened to us. Some suggested that we protest the theft of our earnings.”
According to Alexander, Cuban workers were never able to access that other 75% or 80% of their wages.
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