Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Slavery in the 21st century

I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about the cost of living and salaries for the locals, using our household staff as examples.

Minimum wage here is around US$70 per month.

We have a maid, who works a 40 hour week and doesn't live in, who we pay $120 a month. She gets an extra month's salary in December as a bonus, plus we pay medical expenses for her family up to $120 per annum. She gets two weeks vacation every year. Since we don't have kids (yet), the maid's job is pretty easy, and she spends most afternoons watching TV.

Our gardener/pool guy works 3 days a week, because we share him with the next door neighbour. He makes $50 a month for working a 3 day week, with the same medical, bonus and vacation entitlements as the maid.

Our drivers have base salaries of $120 per month for a 5.5 day week, but because they work a lot of overtime, they end up making probably double that each month, since overtime is $1 an hour, and they also get an extra meal allowance (80 cents) if they work more than 2 hours overtime. If they work before 5am or after 9pm they get an extra $1 for bus fares or gas for their motor cycle. Driving is a plumb job, since when they're not driving they just hang out with other drivers in parking lots, watch TV or sleep. If I'm in the office all day my driver hangs around at the factory sleeping and playing cards with the other drivers from 8am until 5pm when I'm ready to go home.

To put things in perspective, one of our drivers is the husband of our maid, so between them they make around $300-$360 a month. They've got 5 kids to support, aged from 3 months to 23 years old, so obviously food and housing doesn't cost much here.

***

Finding a good driver here is a real hassle. We have a great driver who is basically my partner’s driver during the day, and I've been trying to hire a driver to drive me to and from the office, to band rehearsals and (eventually) gigs. Keep in mind that drivers make twice what a factory worker makes, for doing very little. Most of the day they sleep and play cards with the other drivers while they're waiting to take you to your next destination. So, on most days this means my driver would be on the clock from 6.30am to 7.00pm and would only be actually driving for 2.5 hours.

Anyway, the first guy I tried was unfriendly and a crazy driver, presumably because he was an ex-cab driver. Yesterday I tried another guy, who is a little older (56), and drove for the Australian embassy, so I figured he might be a bit more stable. It turns out he's a nervous, leadfooted driver who can't see shit at night. I don't know how long it's been since he's driven a stick shift, but he keeps forgetting to hit the clutch when he pulls up at toll booths.

I'm not sure how long I'll put up with this guy.

***

I just fired my driver. After a week his driving hasn't improved. Twice on the way home from the office yesterday he decided to use the parking brake as his method of stopping in an emergency, and he's stalled the engine 6 times this week when stopping at toll booths.

***

Our maid has broken two things this week - nothing valuable, just a little ceramic ornament and a potted plant pot. No big deal, even though she didn't mention the breakage to either of us. You know how we found out? Both items were sitting where they are supposed to be, but are now held together with clear sticky tape (Scotch/Durex tape, depending on what part of the world you're in). Did she really think we wouldn't notice?

I've heard stories from other expats who have asked their staff about broken items, and told an evil spirit was responsible for the damage.

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