One of the things about Colombia that makes life here feel luxurious, at least in the eyes of a foreigner, is the fact that services that include manual labour are very affordable. For me, personally, having a full-time maid is something I would have never been able to afford in Europe. But with two little girls (aged 7 months and 2,5 years), and both me and my girlfriend working from home, it would be almost impossible to get anything produced here if we didn’t have someone to help us out. Especially since our kindergarten only offers daycare from 8 AM to noon.
Having someone in your house, though, taking care of your kids and sniffing through your dirty underwear is a matter of trust – a rarely traded commodity in Colombia. With time, your maid will know pretty much everything about your habits, the little secret places where you hide your valuables, how to enter your home etc. It pays to do your due diligence well before deciding to hire a person.
How to find a maid
Like many things in Colombia, going by reference and asking for recommendations is the way to go when looking for a maid. That’s how we found our first, second and now our third maid. But even this does not guarantee success. We’ve had one woman steal from us. Not only is the feeling of betrayal terrible, but it’s also emotionally hard on your kids to let go of a person that they have bonded with.
While I will never accept that someone steals from me, I don’t carry a grudge. I understand that hiring people who will work for minimum wage sometimes mean that you could be dealing with desperate people.
The ideal scenario for me is finding a woman who can clean like a champ, cook like a chef and who also loves playing with my girls. Kind of like a wife. Just without the sex.
It can be hard to find someone who ticks all your boxes, so try lowering your expectations a little and just be happy with the fact that you are fortunate enough to be able to afford this kind of help around your house.
Always make sure that your contract includes a 3-month trial period, which leaves you with an out in the case of a bad match.
How much to pay
Most women looking for jobs as ama de casa or empleada de servicio, as it is known here, know that the salary being offered is the minimum wage, currently $644.350 pesos (US$200) for a full-time position, which equals 8 hours of work per day from Monday to Friday and 4 hours on Saturdays. Several places pay even less.
Estimating 25 workdays per month, it comes to about $25.000 pesos per day.
When I just arrived in Colombia, we started out paying $25.000 pesos per day to our maid. Because I liked her, I raised it to $30.000. Then $30.000 plus transportation. It ended up being around $35.000 pesos.
The thing is, when you pay a salary in Colombia there is a ton of legal requirements that you have to comply with. Things like healthcare and pension are all mandatory but are not included in the $644.350 pesos per month. While many people are willing to work “unofficially” and not receive the benefits, it does not make it right to take advantage of desperate people who are willing to settle for less. I’ve did it for two years and I’m not proud of it. It’s also worth noting that Colombian labor laws are very pro-employee. If any member of your staff reports you to the Ministerio de Trabajo, you are almost guaranteed to lose your case no matter the circumstances. It’s a very common trick here for employees to ask for all their benefits afterwards by demanding them through the Ministry. And unlike all the other public entities in Colombia, el Ministerio de Trabajo are fast in making decisions and demanding the rights of their workers.
So I started thinking. How much would it cost me to hire an employee – the legal way? I called up my accountant. Here are the numbers for an employee who works Monday to Friday, 8 hours per day. We like to travel on the weekends, so our maid does not work Saturdays, which explains the lower base salary.
$ 550.000 base salary
$ 54.825 healthcare
$ 77.400 pension
$ 3.400 ARL – insurance to cover labor-related injuries
$ 25.800 caja de compensación – like Comfandi. Organizations that offer subsidies for families
$ 711.425 subtotal
$ -51.600 that you can subtract. It is the employee’s own contribution to the benefits
$ 659.825 in monthly expenses
$ 624.000 cecantias – savings that the employee can withdraw only to buy a house or pay for education
$ 275.000 vacation pay
$ 0 prima, an extra monthly salary paid in December that does not apply to maids
$ 74.880 interests that comes on top of the cesantias
$ 973.880 in annual expenses. Divided by 12, this number comes to $ 81.156 per month.
Total costs per month
$ 659.825 in monthly expenses
$ 81.156 in annual expenses divided into monthly chunks
$ 750.981 in total monthly expenses
That amounts to $37.049 pesos per day if she works 20 days per month, which is only a paltry $2.000 pesos (US$0.65) in additional expenses, compared to the $35.000 I was paying before.
If you’re looking to hire someone 6 days per week or have a live-in maid, your calculations will be different, but I think you get the point: Hiring a maid the right way and complying with all the legal requirements is by no means as unaffordable as one might think. Not only are you being fair as an employer, you’re also avoiding a potential legal headache.
How to treat your maid
I’m sure there are a ton of opinions on this subject. I’ve heard a good deal of horror stories from our maids about how, especially the older generation of Colombians, have a habit of treating their service employees like shit. Several women have told me how they have been screamed at, not allowed in the living room, couldn’t sit on chairs designated to el patron and so forth. I’m the king, you’re my slave. That kind of thing.
I take the opposite approach. To me, having a maid is a luxury and for that reason I treat the people who work for me like I treat the other things that I cherish in life: With respect.
How could I possibly tell my kids, that the woman who plays with them every single day is not allowed at our dinner table or to sit in our couch?
We eat together, we joke, we small talk and we genuinely care about the well-being of our maid. She’s just like an extended family member, who happens to make her living helping us out around the house.
An alternative solution
If you don’t need help every day and don’t want to deal with the legal BS of signing a contract and paying the right entities every month, there’s a new service provider on the market called Hogaru, which may be just what you’re looking for.
They offer a maid service by the day for people living in Medellín, Bogotá, and Cali. If you buy a package with 6 days – they don’t have do be consecutive – your daily price will be $60.000 pesos. I called and asked for a monthly plan, which they sell for $1.080.000 pesos. It includes 40 hours per week, 8 per day from Monday to Friday.
All their employees get reviewed and the scores are available on their website. If you take out a plan, you will be guaranteed the same women every day unless she is sick, in which case they will send another one.
Hogaru takes care of paying all the benefits, transportation etc. It seems like a great option for rental apartments or people who only need the assistance a few days per week.
(Photo credits: Dan Brady – creative commons at Flicker.com)