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.