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¿Es hora de acabar con las propinas en Estados Unidos?

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Foto original: Steven Depolo

Por Mikel A. Alcázar
Como las películas de Hollywood o las hamburguesas, las propinas forman parte de la cultura popular contemporánea de los Estados Unidos. Utilizadas no solo como una simple gratificación por el trabajo bien hecho, sino en numerosas ocasiones como una parte significativa del propio salario de muchos trabajadores en el sector servicios, las propinas constituyen una tradición que, sin embargo, no convence a todos. El país, inmerso en la recuperación de la crisis y con una tasa de desempleo que ha caído hasta el 5,3%, celebra este lunes el ‘Labor Day’ (su particular Primero de Mayo) con un debate cada vez más latente: ¿estamos ante el principio del fin para las propinas en Estados Unidos?

Nada en la actualidad indica que las propinas, de origen medieval y europeo, llegaron a estar prohibidas en ciudades como Seattle o Memphis: hasta seis estadosaprobaron leyes para acabar con ellas a comienzos del siglo XX. El escenario a día de hoy es bien distinto. Aunque una encuesta afirma que el 95% de los estadounidenses está a favor de este sistema de propinas, cada vez son más las voces discordantes, sobre todo desde que algunas de las principales ciudades del país –empujadas por un movimiento ciudadano que crece progresivamente– han elevado el salario mínimo. Ante las desigualdades que en un mismo negocio pueden generarse entre quienes trabajan de cara al público y quienes lo hacen ‘entre bastidores’, algunos empresarios del sector servicios han reaccionado suprimiendo las propinas (elevando los precios de sus servicios para incrementar así los salarios de sus trabajadores).

Según un estudio de la Universidad de Cornell, el 44% de los estadounidenses preferiría que los trabajadores que les atienden en los restaurantes tuvieran mejores salarios, de tal forma que las propinas no fueran decisivas en sus ingresos. He aquí, en realidad, la esencia de la cuestión: ¿hasta qué punto debecaer sobre los hombros de los clientes una responsabilidad tan importante? ¿Por qué deben tener los comensales de un restaurante tanto poder sobre lo que un trabajador acabará ingresando por su actividad laboral?

Quienes están en contra de este sistema argumentan, entre otras cosas, que las propinas conforman un sistema poco transparente (también desde un punto de vista fiscal), fomentan la explotación laboral o que incluso generan gravesproblemas de desigualdad. Por el contrario, sus partidarios defienden, por ejemplo, que las propinas otorgan más poder a los consumidores, que son un incentivo para los trabajadores o que pueden desembocar en un muy buen salario. La propina “es un contrato social”, explica el profesor Michael Lynn: “Muchas personas trabajan en Estados Unidos con la expectativa de que se les dará propina”. Esa esperanza de obtener una buena gratificación es la que, para algunos consumidores, resultacontraproducente, pues en ocasiones provoca que los trabajadores (algunos meseros, por ejemplo) sean excesivamente “insistentes”.

Las cuantías de las propinas también forman parte de la discusión. Para un extranjero que llega a Estados Unidos, el sistema es sin duda confuso: ¿cuánto y a quién hay que dar un extra? En algunos países, como en muchos de América Latina, una propina del 10% al camarero de un restaurante supone una gratificación generosa, el premio a un buen trabajo. En Estados Unidos, por el contrario, ese porcentaje se asocia a un muy mal servicio: el comensal generalmente no está obligado a dejar propina, pero no hacerlo le causará probablemente una discusión en público y un sonrojo, incluso aunque el servicio haya sido realmente malo. Pese a sus detractores y a las confusiones que genera, este método de pago está totalmente arraigado en la sociedad estadounidense… ¿Será así siempre?


Esta columna fue originalmente publicada en el Blog Blog Factor Trabajo del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo BID.

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