* Private sector jobs double in 2 years
* State jobs slashed 5.7 percent in 2012
* Unemployment and informal work grows
HAVANA, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Cuba's drive to slash state
payrolls and spur private-sector growth picked up surprising
steam in 2012 as President Raul Castro moved ahead with reforms
to the Soviet-style economy, according to figures unveiled
recently with little hoopla.
The number of private or "non state" workers rose 23 percent
in 2012, while state sector employment dropped 5.7 percent,
according to a report from Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo
Rodriguez. The unemployment rate grew to a record 3.8 percent,
not including Cubans who did not seek work.
The wide-ranging year-end report to the National Assembly,
which met in Havana last week, indicated the government is
quietly making progress toward its goal of moving toward a more
market-oriented economy while maintaining the socialist system
in place the last half century.
Just a few years ago, the state employed more than 85
percent of Cuba's labor force, but that is changing as the
government battles heavy indebtedness, economic stagnation, poor
retail services and pilfering.
The report said the government cut 228,000 public jobs in
2012, on top of the previously announced 137,000 in 2011,
closing in on its goal to slash 20 percent, or nearly a million
jobs, from its bloated payrolls, by 2016.
At the same time, the number of private, or "non-state"
workers as Cuba calls them, rose to 1.1 million jobs, double the
number reported two years ago.
The majority of the non-state workers, or about 610,000,
were farmers, whose numbers have grown under Castro's
agricultural reforms, which include leasing state lands to
individuals. The goal is to stimulate local food production and
cut the need for budget-draining food imports.
The rest of the non-state workers are mostly in small retail
businesses or self-employed such as carpenters, seamstresses,
photographers and taxi drivers.
RUNNING THEIR OWN BUSINESS
The cash-strapped state is closing thousands of its small
retail outlets such as barbershops and cafeterias, notorious for
economic inefficiency and employee theft, and offering to lease
the premises to employees or others interested in running their
Starting in 2013 the state plans to turn more than 200
medium-sized businesses, from shrimp breeding and produce
markets to construction and light manufacturing, into private
cooperatives. The experiment will be expanded if successful.
Yzquierdo reported that unemployment was a record 3.8
percent in 2012, or a bit more than 250,000 out of a potential
labor force of 6.8 million people. He admitted that the figure
did not include a million Cubans who he said "did not actively
Cubans often complain that the communist island, with its
wide-ranging social benefits, is a place where too many live off
the dole, a situation Castro has complained about in a number of
speeches and vowed to change.
"Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining
companies, productive entities, services and budgeted sectors
with bloated payrolls (and) losses that hurt the economy, are
counterproductive and form bad work habits," a trade union
federation statement said in 2010, when plans were first
announced to push state employees into the "non-state" sector.
Many of those without jobs still enjoy free health care,
education, subsidized food ration and other government services
while also dealing in Cuba's vast black market, engaging in
minor business activity and trading on the margins of the law.
Clara, a 36-year-old Havana resident, was laid off two years
ago from her job as a secretary for a state-run security
company, given one month's pay, another month of unemployment
benefits and then left to fend for herself.
Instead of looking for another job, she decided to do
manicures and hair styling, working under the radar without
getting the small-business license required by the state.
Clara said she charged 24 pesos (1 dollar) for a manicure
and about the same for hair styling, and brought home maybe 500
pesos, or about $20 per week.
That is considerably more than the $15 a month she earned
with the government, but not enough to get legal.
"I only do my friends and as far as I'm concerned make too
little to go through all the bother of registering my business
and paying taxes," she said.