Child care in non-state employment

After the new opening to self-employment in Cuba in 2010, child care continues being an option, one of the few authorised activities involving services traditionally carried out by women. The incorporation of women to that activity has been significant until now. According to the Employment Department of the Labour and Social Security Ministry, in November 2011 a total of 1,460 persons had applied for child care licenses nationwide, of which 1,445 were women (99%).

The analysis of the labour reality of those who have opted for that alternative is of vital    socio-gender interest, since there are few publications and studies that refer to this phenomenon that while it involves important changes in the country’s employment policy has also created new challenges for social and gender equity. This article analyses some peculiarities of the strategies created for child care in Cuba since the 1960s until now, placing special emphasis on the development of that activity in the self-employment sphere, based on the changes taken place since 2010.

Women, jobs and child care

On a global level there is a great contradiction between the labour order of our societies – built and thought according to the patriarchal style – and the daily dynamics of those who opt for maternity; since it is the latter persons who suffer the most from the enormous obstacles derived from not having sufficient resources for the full enjoyment of this role and in equity with their family members, especially the men. This is due, among other reasons, to the permanence of the socio-sexual division of labour and the spaces that mark, in a differentiated way, the feminine and masculine dynamics in relation to reproduction.

Faced by these circumstances, and for a more in-depth reflection of the matter, the following questions can be used to seek some clues about the characteristics adopted by the problem in the different systems, as well as their complexity at present:

–    What actions are strengthened to guarantee the social wellbeing associated to the improvement of the fertility rates? How much does it cost to establish them?
–    What policies or strategies are being established in each system for care and assurance of the persons who want to have children?
–    How are these initiatives articulated with the characteristics of the context and, specifically, with the way in which they are expressed in the world’s patriarchal organisation?
–    How much thought is given to the personal and family cost of having children in contexts adverse to those who are mainly responsible, according to the sexist tradition?
–    To what extent is it taken into account that the personal is political and that this decision goes through the cost-benefit that each one sees in it and the conditions in which they have to opt for a “Yes to children”?

The answers that in each context will be given to these questions will be conditioned by the advances achieved in gender equity, especially in relation to the family-work dilemma, two spheres of life presented as being opposed, despite the efforts of many to speak of a possible conciliation between them, which almost always leads to in bad arrangements.  This is due to the fact that each process is thought out, almost always, based on a productive logic, where employment and labour availability are the only horizon that matters . This is why the conciliation frequently is not seen as a feminist solution to the problems of inequity between the sexes in their roles of caregivers, but rather as a strategy to maintain the established order to the detriment of women, making it seem as if this is “politically correct.”

This reality fundamentally damages women and becomes acute with the direct impact of the crisis of the Welfare State  in the quality/quantity of child care services; also because of the success of the neoliberal policies, which bring with them the gradual detriment to the working conditions and the evident position of disadvantage they have in a more competitive and demanding labour market. Meanwhile, there exists a deterioration of the informal systems of family care, increasingly fragile and insecure.

Today this situation brings as a consequence “a void regarding care giving”,  since there is increasingly less care giving in the family and more is consumed. Faced by these circumstances, the dissonance increases for those women who have steady employment in a situation of crisis, as they are the “principal persons responsible” for this type of care and they feel the need to preserve their achieved autonomy. Thus to satisfy that need and to not lose their condition as employees, many of them resort to hiring other women who usually have more disadvantages than them to form part of the formal labour market, because they are migrants (national or international), because they lack education, have family or other types of problems. This hiring is usually established in the informal labour market and on an international level it is conceived as a reality that is very difficult to count due to the categories of these tasks in an underground economy, where the monetary interest is mixed with the affection and complicity among women, as they share a “non-negotiable” role, according to the patriarchal precepts.

This phenomenon, very widespread on an international level, results in serious complications for many women, especially for those who provide their labour force in the sphere of an unstable and deregulated hiring that leaves them devoid of legal protection or social security. Faced by this reality, some States have taken initiatives offering greater guarantees to this army of women workers, the principal architects of daily work regarding child care in many families.

Child care as a strategy for Cuban women’s empowerment

After January 1959, the country underwent many changes; those that most stand out for their importance were those geared at achieving the transformation of the life of women. It was known that they were a fundamental link in the establishment of the new society to be built and, in that sense, not only were they the object of the social policies but also their protagonists.

The reconstruction of the socio-sexual division of labour and women’s incorporation to the public space as workers were essential premises of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), an organisation that ever since its beginning gave them prioritised and direct attention. This is how diverse strategies were promoted, whose aims were to increase the educational level, establish a different juridical framework that would guarantee gender equality and expand the opportunities they had to build their own life projects, among others. But none of these initiatives would have been possible if the material and cultural bases for their development were not created, with a view to eliminating the obstacles that hindered Cuban women’s access to and permanence in those spaces. In this way their housework load, fundamentally caused by tasks related to child care, were analysed with special emphasis.

An advance regarding this was the creation in 1962 of the first three childcare centres,  institutions that rapidly started to increase and expand throughout the country. The data confirm that by 1985 there were already 838 institutions of this type, which benefited more than 96,000 working mothers.  When referring to the values of this initiative, Vilma Espín affirmed: “they are perhaps, among our tasks, the one that most deeply we carry in our hearts, and we must take it forward despite all the difficulties.”

The appearance of this service was vital, not just to guarantee women’s insertion into work, but also to deposit the formation of the new generations in the hands of an organisation that, together with the State, was promoting the values demanded by the new socialist project (solidarity, cooperation and humanism).

Parallel to this, strategies were established for the transformation of the labour reality of those involved in these functions before 1959 (be they domestics or nanas) and whose work was considered by many as a manifestation of the slave work “proper of the capitalist system.” Special training plans were created for them, like, for example, the Conrado Benítez Schools for Domestics (1961), directed at the education and social insertion of young women who had been left with nothing in the houses abandoned by the families that emigrated from the country at the triumph of the revolution. Through this project they were taught to read and write up to 6th grade, they were taught dressmaking, shorthand and typing. After graduation, many of them formed part of the working class and were incorporated as employees in popular transport, to carry out office work in the banking agencies and other state-run enterprises.

This action can be considered among the most important of that time, in terms of women’s empowerment and autonomy, though some women who were not linked to these programmes continued with their roles of paid self-employed caregivers, functioning parallel to the state alternatives created for this type of service. However, with the approval of Decree-Law 14 in 1978, child care became a service that legally could only be provided to Cuban citizens through state-run institutions, and other options were disallowed. In its article 7 it stipulates that the productions and services that can be provided by private workers are those that the state-run organisations cannot  fully satisfy at a given time, in amount as well as in the way they are supplied. Those productions and services will be determined annually by the State Committee for Finances, together with the State Committee for Labour and Social Security; the Domestic Trade Ministry and other governing agencies responsible for the activity, taking into consideration the Local Organs of People’s Power.

It is also explained through the cited document that the activities referred to in this decree-law can only be carried out in relation to diplomatic, consular missions, representations of international agencies and commercial offices in the country and their personnel, according to the regulations contained in the legislation in force for labour relations and the supply of services with those entities. CUBALSE (Cuba at the service of foreigners), an employment agency that used to group together those who formally provided this service, emerged to organise the child care activity in the formal sector and respond to the applications of the aforementioned sectors
Notwithstanding these restrictions, some women continued doing this “illegally” paid work in the informal market of the economy until 1993, when Decree-Law 141/93 was approved. Private work was expanded with this decree and in the option 38, “child caregiver” reappeared. It is significant that this option appeared written in masculine when it was an activity carried out traditionally by women; compared to other options that were marked in the feminine, like: embroiderers, manicurist, weaver or washwoman. It should also be pointed out that, while this measure opened the doors for many persons, the insertion of the university sector was excluded.

This prohibition is maintained in the joint Resolution No. 1/96 of the Labour and Social Security Ministry (MTSS) – Finance and Prices Ministry (MFP), which establishes in its article 6: “university professionals cannot carry out private work in the profession or specialty from which they graduated in the higher education institutions, which is reserved for public service, but rather exclusively in the approved activities, related or not to their university titles.”

As can be seen, this new juridical framework is more specific regarding what type of university graduates cannot provide their services in this option. The State’s intention to control the work of the qualified professional force for this type of work is inferred to in article 6, and to reserve it specifically to work in its institutions.

A process of economic reorganisation began in 2008 in Cuba, whose principal objective has been labour restructuration to achieve a more efficient and productive system. The principal transformations promoted since then include a new opening to self-employment, which has a great impact in the world of labour. According to the newspaper Granma, in late April 2011 there was a total of 309,728 private workers in Cuba, of which 221,839 were working in the new alternatives approved in 2010.

Child care remains as an option and is considered fundamental for the current conditions. Today, services with a growing demand, which are difficult to sustain solely by the state sector or need to be complemented with other alternatives, are delegated to this sector. It should be highlighted, as something extremely positive, that the existence of this legal framework created a system of security that benefits an important number of persons who previously were illegally dedicated to this work or who were left available in the process of reviewing the inflated payrolls. Through this juridical support and specifically with the approval of Decree-Law No. 284 of 2011, which modified Decree-Law No. 278 of 2010, a special regimen of social security was established for this sector.  Thus, for example, the rights are established to the benefit of paid maternity leave and to pensions for total disability, temporary or permanent, for age or to family members because of death, according to the time in service and the period of contribution.

However, these don’t seem to be sufficiently attractive elements for a group of persons who function parallel to these private workers and do not declare their condition in the paid care of children, in order to evade taxes or inspections. This fact determines, on occasions, the existence of greater benefits for this non-registered group, since it can propose better prices and win over more clients. This situation has led to malaise among those who have recourse to the law, since they believe there is a lack of control regarding these illegalities.

Characteristics of child care after the reopening to self-employment in Cuba

In the current Cuban context, the assessment of care is of special interest, especially because the country is living a period of crisis in which the population’s needs associated to this type of service are increasing. This is due, among other reasons, to the impact of the crisis of the 1990s in the economy and in the functioning of the installations designed for this service, as well as to the gradual disappearance or decrease of some strategies and policies, supported by the State and Federation of Cuban Women, geared at achieving what Rosyska Darcy Ribeiro called “reengineering of time.”

In the face of this panorama, the economic value of these services has considerably increased and the existence of paid domestic workers, devoted to these tasks, has become more visible in the country. This fact is of special sociological and political interest since this is a phenomenon that was thought had been eliminated or, at least, was almost imperceptible decades after the triumph of the revolution.  

The following results come from a research done last year, whose simple covers 18 private childcare workers residing in Cojímar, a town located to the east of the capital.  The study’s objective was to analyse the characteristics of the work of these self-employed persons from a gender perspective, with which data of great interest were obtained. Of the variables that were taken into account to carry it out, some have been selected, in the interest of making a rereading and an in-depth analysis of this phenomenon in the national context.

“This is a work of women and for women”: A first result that calls attention in the study is that all those who reside in Cojímar and have registered with the municipal ONAT after 2010 to work as childcare centre assistants are women. This is a data of extreme interest, based on which the little or no incorporation men have had to the approved tasks and considered as traditionally feminine can be confirmed. This reality is the direct consequence of the process of generic socialisation which, in a differentiated manner, women and men live, through which women are better educated than men as caregivers and have greater opportunities to incorporate into these tasks.

The sexual division of labour that, through this process, is reproduced or takes place is organised in the same way with some institutionalised mechanisms for this purpose. For example, the women said that during the first meetings held with the municipal work authorities, it was explained to them that it was forbidden for men to carry out this type of functions. This is proof of how the patriarchal power is sufficiently well rooted in our societies, not just to guarantee that their structures remain in time, but that any attempt to transform them is stopped or at least hindered. This situation not only limits the participation of men in these tasks, but also that of women in others that are traditionally male, in which they are also not accepted or not considered correct. In the face of this reality, mechanisms have to be established to close the existing gaps, especially when we believe that another generic organisation of our societies is possible and necessary.

Labour experience and insertion in the self-employment sector: 61.1 percent of the selected simple said they had joined the sector in 2011, after the reopening of self-employment, a sign of how correct that transformation was for a group of persons who had been waiting for it. It should be highlighted that none of the interviewees had worked privately before, since, though they wanted to do so, they said there “existed a great deal of paperwork and bureaucratic obstacles.” This fact can be related to one of collected data, since it was confirmed that more than half of the selected group had previously been involved in these functions in the informal market of the economy.

For 72.2 percent of the studied cases, the new juridical framework meant an opportunity to change sector (from the state-run to self-employment), since they said they had previously carried out this work or other similar ones as educators in childcare centres, as pedagogic assistants in primary schools or as nurses. Among the reasons that motivated this insertion, the economic ones stand out, since they sought to meet their material needs and those of their families. Moreover, they said they had found no other employment options that adjusted to their needs and expectations.

This decision also appears associated to the skills that throughout their lives they have developed based on socio-generic training different from what men receive; remember that women are educated to be good daughters, wives and mothers. Many of these trainings are reinforced, after the first stage of family socialisation, by other institutions and social groups. School, for example, plays a fundamental role in this sense, since the existence of a visible sexism can still be perceived in them, especially when making an assessment of the hidden curriculum. This fact later marks the formation and professional development of many women; for example, 5.5 percent of the selected sample carried out university studies associated to teaching and child care, while 27.7 percent was formed through the daily professional routine in childcare centres or as pedagogic assistants.

Tasks carried out: There is a close relationship between their previous work and the preference shown by some employers for those who have carried out this type of work in the state-run sector. This condition presupposes for many clients better conditions to face the care and development of an educational process similar to the one carried out by the traditional institutions (known for strengthening a good formation in the first years of life). In fact, these caregivers have to follow a pattern established by the labour office and the inspectors, very similar to the one followed in the child day care centres.

“They receive the children in the early morning hours, carry out educational tasks and games, give them a snack in the midmorning, and heat up the lunch at noon in a bain-marie according to instructions. Following this, the children take their nap until three in the afternoon, they give them the snack the children’s families have brought for them and then they are left to play freely until they are picked up.” (The routine explained by one of the interviewed caregivers)

These tasks require from 10 to 11 hours a day, since they receive the first children at around seven in the morning and the last one is picked up around five or six in the evening. It should be pointed out that, in addition to the schedules established during the week, 50 percent of the sample admitted working extra hours during the weekend, especially during the working Saturdays.

Caregivers-children relationship: As to the communication established between these caregivers and the children, all of them describe it as good. They focus on the educational process and the activities carried out for that purpose. This process marks, in some way, the affective links that emerge between them and the children they educate, which frequently last a lifetime after the period caring for the child. It should be pointed out that that work, especially when it involves children, places at the centre the affective-relational-subjective dimension, unpredictable and uncompromising to concrete moments or tasks, as an important typical quality. From this emerges one of the great challenges faced by the sciences dedicated to their study today, since it is difficult to channel the analysis in the traditional mercantile paradigm.

Material conditions to carry out the work: Aspects related to the characteristics of the homes where they work or provide services, the working means they have to carry out their work, the risks to which they are exposed and the working hours were taken into account to analyse this variable. It was confirmed, among the principal results, that all the self-employed women considered their working conditions were good. This judgment is based on the evaluation of the characteristics of the homes where they work and their state of construction. Moreover, they said they had the necessary tools to carry out their functions, which are acquired generally by them and their family members. None of them considered they were exposed to physical or mental risks while carrying out these tasks, even when they refer, as will be seen later, that the workdays are exhausting.

Social and economic value they grant to the activity: According to the caregivers’ opinion on the work they carry out, all of them said it was good, necessary and useful. Regarding its utility as paid-for child care work, 55.5 percent said that the tasks they carry out “are very important and useful for life in society” and that they “mainly help working women,” while 16.6 percent said that “though it is an honoured work, it is not socially recognised.”  

They assess as positive the approval of this work as an option in the self-employment sector and refer to the importance of their work for the whole of society, but especially for working women. Personally, among the advantages of their incorporation to private work, they highlight the following aspects: earning more income (100%), having the right to retirement (61.1%), gaining labour stability through a social link with the State (83.3%), contributing to the country’s economy (27.7%) and benefiting from social security (100%).

General perceptions on their work: In terms of the activities they carry out, 100 percent referred to the fact that they are exhausting and require a great deal of perseverance. They affirm that “it is a work of great responsibility and watchfulness because the children can fall down and hurt themselves, or suffer some accident if an eye is not kept on them.”

Regarding the incomes and rewards they receive in exchange for this work, it can be observed that they are paid between 200 and 250 national pesos per child a month, though two of the workers said that, in some cases, they charge employers that have a low purchasing power less than 200 pesos. All the interviewees said that the amount of money they receive for the work they carry out is fair and, in one way or the other, it allows them to meet their material needs. Only 11.1 percent of the sample receives additional incentives from their employers, mainly clothes and personal hygiene products.  

All the interviewees are affiliated to social security and say they are satisfied with their contribution to society.

Some demands, some challenges: It was notable that all the interviewed caregivers easily mentioned the principal advantages they derived from the work, economic ones as the most significant. However, when they were asked to comment on the inconveniences or disadvantages they had in or for professional development, they gave no answers.

However, in the arguments they presented in the face of other questions one can perceive some discontent with:

–    The little attention their union demands get. They complain about the inexistence of a homogeneous union group (union of caregivers) to analyse their realities and specific needs, since only the realities of the self-employed of the territory dedicated to the most diverse activities converge in this union.
–    The demand by the inspectors that they have the same utensils for the children they care for (chairs, toothbrushes, drinking cups, etc.), even when a wholesale market does not exist to achieve such a uniformity and their budget is not enough to incur in these expenditures.
–    The limitations they have in relation to the number of allowed children (five per caregiver). They say that this number must not be established a priori without exploring the characteristics of each case, given that all the children do not require the same degree of attention (a two-year-old child is not the same as one who is five). In that sense, they demand the analysis of each case in particular to determine their specificities and assess the number of possible children. The space they have, as well as other material conditions, should be taken into account in this decision.

Final reflections

The transformations that have taken place in the Cuban context in recent times, regarding child care, presumably are of transcendental historic and social importance, for those who provide these services as well as for those who receive them. It is known that much still has to be done to guarantee the adequate incorporation, training and labour development of the persons interested in that activity, but it is thought that the steps that have been taken have a direct incidence on the possible changes and the establishment of a global care system more diverse and adjusted to a changing social order, seeking development.

These are times for making up for the needs derived from the void that exists in terms of caregivers and for creating sustainable strategies to face their negative effects. For this, the prevision, planning and support of these strategies should be taken into account, from the state, with a gender focus, which demands a greater collective awareness to consider that the socialisation and care of dependent persons, especially children, is a problem that concerns all of society and not a private issue that each family has to resolve independently. (2014)

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