Time to Pay the Piper

We never had any domestic help of any kind in the states and had very few friends that had a maid or gardener. Like most people we figured if we needed a maid then it was time to sell the house since it must be too big.

But living down here changes your thinking real quick. If you have a colonial home you are essentially living outdoors and the floors must be swept and mopped several times a day due to the dust. Secondly, a full-time maid or gardener’s minimum wage is around $.70 an hour or $135 a month. And that is for a six day workweek or 48 hours. Thirdly, caretakers, maids and gardeners comprise a large percentage of jobs available here.

Sadly, many of the workers only receive the minimum wage regardless of the industry. Even the expats often are just paying the minimum wage which seems strange given the low rate of pay and the inflation rate. When we arrived seven years ago the dollar was equal to 17 cordobas and now it is 24.3 cordobas. So if your income is in dollars then you should be giving your help around 5% raise each year just to stay even.

The government realizes this and has begun raising the minimum wage in each industry since it tends to be the given rate of pay. Maids and other domestic help currently have a minimum wage of 3,233 cordobas a month ($135). Somehow the teachers were able to get two recent minimum wage increases so they now receive $200 a month which is awful but it is 35-50% more than domestic workers and policemen. We are not sure why the teachers got preferential treatment since they work fewer hours per day, only work five days a week, get summer vacation off and have more holidays. This is where I get in trouble. Our teacher friends will say how much homework there is, preparation work, etc. like those things don’t exist in other lines of work. Like all jobs, there are good workers and there are bad workers.
We have had our maid for over six years and really could not live without her even though she is, frankly, not a very good worker. Tremendously reliable and trustworthy but not very good at the maidenly duties. It is hard to find reliable and trustworthy workers due to the poverty. Many of our friends tell us what a wonderful workers they have but a year later, half will have a new worker for one reason or another. Reina is now part of our family and we will take good care of her.
Since we do not really want another person in the house most of the day, do not require her to wash clothes or cook meals, we have her work three hours a day six days a week. At this time, we are paying her $85 a month which sounds paltry but this calculates to about 50% more than the minimum wage which is what most people pay here. Like all regular workers she also receives a month’s salary each year for vacation (which she never takes) and the extra month’s salary in December. These are required by law.
The INSS ministry in Granada is now going door to door ensuring that all workers are enrolled in their mandatory health and social security program for coverage. We had never enrolled Reina in the program because she had asked us not to since both the employer and the employee must contribute to the program. Since things are so loosey-goosey down here we agreed with her wishes and thought nothing of it for the past six years.
We invited the INSS government worker in and discussed how it works. Essentially the employer (us) must pay 16% of her salary and Reina must pay 6.25% to the government. We thought that that’s not too bad and would help Reina later on in life. But then we discovered we must pay 16% of the minimum wage regardless of her actual number of work hours and pay. It was explained to us that since Reina works six days a week it was considered full-time. If she just worked three or four days then she could be considered part-time. So actually our percentage would be around 25% of her salary. We discussed all of this with Reina and decided to comply with the program. Next month we start paying into the program.
So, slowly but surely, the government is getting their act together and compliance is being sought which does help the workers here. The workers worry whether they will ever see the social security money and where have we heard that before? The health insurance component is surely needed to bring up the level of health coverage.
Such is life in Nicaragua.