In Laches —one of the poorest neighborhoods in Bogotá that was born from the occupations and land grabs on the slopes of the Guadalupe and La Peña hills— Paola lives with her parents, her 17-year-old daughter and her 2-year-old grandson. From a very young age, Paola has worked as a gardener, cook, waitress and as a paid domestic worker. Job uncertainty has been very present in her life: she lives without knowing if she will have a job the next day, if she will take money home at the end of the day... Looking for ways to escape her restlessness, Paola found an ad on social media about a company app for cleaning services. She applied by filling out an online form, she didn't think they would call her, but there was nothing to lose by trying. They contacted her within a week, she passed several filters (medical exams and interviews) and, thus, she was hired by the Hogaru app. She has been working there for two months.
Hogaru is the first company with a cleaning app in Colombia. It is defined as "a digital platform to book cleaning and cafeteria services", but it also offers a basic escort service for people. It operates in three cities: Bogota, Medellin and Cali. On its website, it profiles 624 paid domestic workers, but there may be more. Hogaru affiliates its workers to the social security system, gives them a labor contract, a work schedule of eight hours a day and all the legal benefits. For this reason, we could say that it is an atypical case among its peers in the region, since the other apps observed do not guarantee labor rights as Hogaru does. However, there are things that could be improved in the company, says Paola.
Domestic work is physically demanding: “There are times when it is too heavy. It's a lot of work,” says Paola in distress. It is 9 pm and we are talking on the phone. Her daily routine is so strenuous that she can only find time in the evening—when she returns home—to talk.
The Hogaru app allows hiring cleaning services for four or eight hours, but, on several occasions, the established time is not respected: the clients want the workers to stay longer. “They tell us eight hours and they want me to work more than eight hours. My departure time is established and sometimes they don't let me leave at that time,” she tells me annoyed. In the app you can have split shifts, that is, work in different houses on the same day. The time spent between house and house is not contemplated within her eight-hour work schedule. So sometimes she is away from home for more than 15 hours. When she has split days, one shift can be in the north of the city and the other one, two or even three hours away, to the south. In other words, with Hogaru, the workers cannot choose the areas where they will work.
Paola lives in a lower-income sector of the city, she belongs to the working class; meanwhile, those who contract the service from the app live in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. "They send me to the neighborhoods of the rich", she describes while laughing. In general, Paola goes to work in the neighborhoods of Chicó Norte, Mazurén, Cedritos, Las Margaritas and also "all over the Séptima, for example, 86, 158, 200 and these are very nice houses." Inequality can be seen from the moment you reach the neighborhood to when you enter those houses. Even if Paola doesn't mind going there and confronting the abysmal differences in her life and that of those people, these disparities are very marked and allow us to see the social differences.
When you enter one of those houses, it is like “Holly Jesus!” The houses are like, they have everything, the type of thing you have never seen before. When you arrive at their house you say "oh, well, thank God I have a place to live, I have a house, but you say “Holy Mother of God, this is a real mansion"... When I arrive home, I tell my mom that I was in a house in which the kitchen of the lady is bigger than our three-rooms house.
In Hogaru they are paid 500,000 Colombian pesos (approximately USD 115.83) every 15 days. That is, between 30,000 and 33,000 Colombian pesos per day (approximately between USD 6.95 and 7.64). However, Paola affirms that outside the app they can earn 60,000 to 70,000 Colombian pesos a day (approximately between USD 13.90 and 16.22). That is, on the one hand, on your own, you could earn twice as much as with the app, but without legal benefits. On the other hand, the app charges clients 87,950 Colombian pesos (approximately USD 20.37) for four hours of service and 116,950 Colombian pesos (approximately USD 27.09) for eight. In other words, for an eight-hour day, Hogaru keeps about 72% of the pay: the worker receives 28%. That is to say, almost three quarters of the payment of the workers is expropriated from them. Now domestic and care work is valued –a historical demand–, but it is appropriated by others.
Paola says that the payment is not justified, that it is too low. She says her colleagues also think it is low. They must spend on bus tickets (even if the app covers part of it), they must bring food or buy food on the streets, going from one place to the other all day. Her day is eight hours of work plus all the commuting from house to house.
The truth, the truth is that is not enough... I leave here, from my house, at five in the morning and I arrive at seven, eight at night. These are fifteen hours out of my home for 33 thousand pesos. It is not justified.
Paola reports that even if with the app she has a stable salary and a permanent job, there are very strenuous days. It is more than twelve or fifteen hours outside the house to go to work. She works from Monday to Saturday. On Saturdays they do not pay more money for their work. Also, when you have to ask for one free day, the app deducts two days from your payment.
Supposedly the companies always discount you on the day you ask for the leave, but in this company, they discount us for two days. In other words, if I ask for a leave tomorrow, well, they give me the free day tomorrow, but they deduct tomorrow and the day [after] when I go to work; the other day. They discount two days, 60 thousand pesos that they take from me for one day of leave. That's what I don't understand.
Paola has a little grandson, with whom she would like to spend more time, take him to the park to play… Leaving her house at 5 or 6 am and returning at night, she misses spending time with her family. When she needed to ask for a free day in Hogaru, she has done so to take her parents or grandson to medical appointments and she believes that flexibility should be allowed in those circumstances.
Also, they discount part from her pay if she is late for a service. This happens especially when they are in split turns; paid domestic workers take time to get to the houses because they do not know the directions or there is no public transportation to all the exclusive neighborhoods where they must go to work. If she is late, they discount up to 11,000 Colombian pesos (USD 2.55) from her. “You have to arrive at work on time. If I'm late, then they'll deduct from my salary right there,” Paola says with concern.
Digital cleaning platforms should provide labor rights. Hogaru is an app that hires paid domestic workers in compliance with the provisions of the law in Colombia. However, Paola mentions some issues that could be considered to improve the living and working conditions of the women who work in the app. Paola demands an increase in the payment rate, a system for selecting distances for work shifts, and a more flexible leave policy. With this, she seeks fairer working conditions and a dignified life for all her colleagues. The cleaning apps can be improved and it is the workers who have the knowledge of the changes that must be made!
Illustrators: Sara Agustina | @saraagustina