SAN GIL, Colombia- I am unsure if I’ve ever been in a country outside of East Asia where it is common for so many people to work so often. I’ve been told that the employed Colombian will often work six days per week, but this has been told to me on multiple occassions by people working all seven.
I stayed in the Hotel Internacional in Bogota for eight nights, and I could not help but to notice that the same staff was on duty for my entire stay.
“You work a lot,” I commented as I ate lunch with one of the receptionists.
She agreed with my observation with a laugh.
“How many days per week do you work?” I asked.
“All of them,” she replied.
“You work seven days a week?” I asked again.
“You don’t have any days off?”
“Yes, I have two weeks per year free.”
I often prefer working in the common area of a hotel or hostel as oppose to cramping myself into a little room, so I find myself in a prime position for observing the workers as they go about their days — I get to know their jokes, their gossip, their drama. The effect is that I tend to become a part of the roomscape, perhaps as unnoticeable as wall paper, and just as in-consequent — that guy vegetating on the computer over there.
Eventually, I often feel the need to tell these hotel workers what I’m doing — “I’m working, this is my job.” Even I find it to be rather odd behavior to sit on a computer from 8AM to noon, 8PM to midnight nearly every single day when traveling.
“We are co-workers,” I joke.
“You work all the time,” I said to Geraldin, the “do all” worker who completely runs the Santander Alemana hostel in San Gil all by herself. “How many days do you work?”
Again, the response was seven, spoken with a laugh. Geraldin works and lives in the hostel, and if there is a duty to be done here, it is hers. She cooks breakfast for the hostel guests, cleans everything, dressess the rooms, scrubs the bathrooms, does check in and check out, washes all the linen for the owners two hostels, books tours, washes the owners’ clothes, washes the guests clothes (no extra pay), provides travel information, and entertains everyone.
Unlike some of the other hotel workers that I’ve discovered working seven days per week in Colombia, she virtually never has a moment truly free. Her one permitted trip away from the hostel each day is a short run to the market to pick up food each morning — and, for this, she often has to ask me to hold down the fort.
Geraldin does this all for 300,000 pesos, around $166 per month — slightly over $5 per day — and a room that she shares with the owner’s sister.
“What is the favorite part of your job?” I once asked her.
“The people,” she replied, “there are always people here. I’m never alone.”
Typically, employed Colombians not only work six or seven days a week but long hours as well. Geraldin was an exception because she lived where she worked, and thus could not even “go home,” but even when workers have an abode to return to they tend to spend the bulk of their days at work.
At another hotel in San Gil I was talking with one of the receptionists at the start of her shift around seven at night. When I woke up the next morning and made to leave the hotel she was still on duty.
“How many hours per day do you work?” I asked her.
“14,” was her reply.
She also has three kids at home.
While it is normal for working class people with formal employment in developing countries to work far more than their brethren in the US, Europe etc . . . it struck me as incredible just how much many Colombians actually work. A six day work week is normal on this planet, but working seven days per week is not. 60, 70, 80 hour work weeks seem to be normal here.
But few Colombians that I’ve talked to seem to complain. They just laugh in agreement when I comment on how often they work. They seem to appreciate the fact that they have a job, as working seven days a week here is preferable to being unemployed.
Officially, the maximum work week in Colombia is capped at 48 hours and the minimum wage is 500,000 pesos, but, in practice, there is little regard for these employment laws.
I fear that the working people of this world are fast approaching another “industrial revolution” like scenario where job scarcity leads to people clenching to their employment with iron grips, accepting abuse from employers as a way of course, agreeing to work for longer hours for less pay in thorough ambivalence of what ever labor laws and regulations that may “officially” be in place. “At least we have jobs,” will be the rally cry, spoken by the employed in acknowledgement of all those out of work stiffs standing in line behind them, ever at the ready to take their place.
The people of this world who work 40 hours per week grumble about it and dream of working 4 hours, while those who work 60 or 70+ hours per week dream of working 40. But if current employment trends continue as they are in the USA and Europe we all may soon find ourselves toiling six or seven days around the clock, as they do in Colombia.