Cuba’s New Domestic Servants

Regina Cano

Domestic servants are one of the flourishing self-employment opportunities in Cuba.
Domestic servants are one of the flourishing self-employment alternatives in Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — “People are hiring housemaids again. My health isn’t what it used to be, but, if it were, mark my word, that’s what I’d be doing right now. I have no money,” a woman over 60, who lives in Havana’s neighborhood of Guanabacoa, told me at a bus stop.

She was referring to the occupation of “Domestic Servant”, one of the several forms of self-employment which have proliferated in Cuba in recent times.

Working as a maid has become one of the most sought-after ways of improving one’s economic situation among Cuban women. Young or old, these women understand that whoever is willing to pay for this service has already improved their own  situation.

“Times are rough”, as people are wont to say, and, right now, meeting one’s daily needs, or, better said, keeping up with the cost of living, means taking on at least two decently-paid jobs.

Are there more people employed as household servants than, say, cafeteria waiters today? I couldn’t say, for it’s a social phenomenon which arose as a black market activity and was outside State regulation for very long, as is the case of babysitting.

Recently, a friend called me to ask me what I knew about these jobs. She’s worked a State job for over 25 years and now wants to retire and start working as a housemaid, having been offered to work in a household with two children who are of school-age.

She almost made a terribly uninformed decision, though, because she was willing to work for 360 regular Cuban pesos a month, which, in her mind, added up to 15 CUCs (16.50 USD), a sum she must work hard to put together. Many have made such rash decisions, to the benefit of many others, I dare say.

The market, you see, has already imposed a standard rate. There are people who pay 45 CUCs a month or 20 a week for unplanned work, and even up to 5 a day in extraordinary situations. The amount also varies across neighborhoods, for, as one might expect, households in Vedado, Nuevo Vedado or Miramar – where incomes tend to be higher – pay differently than those in Lawton, San Miguel del Padron or other neighborhoods far from downtown.

There are families who pay from 75 to 100 Cuban Convertible Pesos for domestic work, which often includes preparing breakfast and one additional meal for the whole family, grooming and taking the kids to school (as well as preparing their lunches and picking them up after school). It also involves cleaning the house, washing all of the dishes used throughout the day and/or doing the laundry (a task which may or may not be entrusted to someone else).

The people hired for this kind of work usually have to spend all day doing these chores and cannot take on other jobs. In some cases, their own homes are very far from where they work and it’s simply not practical to leave before the end of the workday.

So, that’s where things stand right now. One thing is certain: if there are more and more people looking for these kinds of jobs, it means there are more and more people who have the economic means to employ them.

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

4 thoughts on “Cuba’s New Domestic Servants

  • Hi there , I’m a mother of two kids 10, 4 years older I’m looking for a full time house maid from Cuba to come to Dubai, if anyone interested please do let me know

  • I’m from Chicago and I’m looking for help with house chores it just me and husband looking for a move in help no rent just help around house I have bad back husband always at work have 2 spare rooms please email me or get back to me

  • Lots of families in Cuba – at least those that get remittances – have domestic helpers.
    Lots of exiles pay for care for their elderly parents.
    These workers get a better pay than they could ever get working for a state company.

    In Santiago I heard two interesting words to describe them. Both with strange connotations:
    – “la chocolatera”: the “chocolate lady” referring to back servants from the past and used to describe a person that does a lot of (domestic) work. Often women will complain to their husbands that they aren’t his “chocolatera” when he demands too much or doesn’t help around the house.
    – “criada”: the person raised (bred) here. The term refers to a domestic worker. It goes back to slave times when domestic workers were “born and bread” on the states.

  • Casa particulares (Cuba’s version of the bed-n-breakfast) have long employed domestics ‘under the table’ to clean the tourists quarters. The owners of my favorite casas where I stay during my visits usually pay their domestics 40 cuc per month to clean my apartment every other day. If I want clothes washed, the domestic charges 5 cuc per load directly fom me and then splits it with the owner. A friend of mine wanted to start a business where he contracted for cleaning services with restaurants and other small business. He wants to hire cleaners whom he trusted to do the work. However, that kind of cleaning business is still illegal. The license is only good for the one person who gets it and one family member as a helper. The quarterly taxes for the license must be paid regardless of the amount of work as well as social security. So much for real reform for the self-employed.

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