A Cautionary Tale
Maravilla in Spanish means “ wonder” and the location of this story could be “eighth wonder of the world” but for this cautionary tale I believe Pesadilla (nightmare) would be more appropriate. This account is set in a place just outsite of El Cotillo and where i learned some of the hardships of working in the Canary Islands. This is a cautionary tale. Just up behind the beach is a group of bungalows dressed in white with blue hats, where my first experience of working the Canaries as a cleaner began.
After deciding to remain in the village, I started to look for work. A week later I was informed by a lovely Irish lady, who owns the Puerto Nuevo Restaurant about a part-time contract job. She rang them for me and I went for an interview the next day.
The job was for five days a week, five hours each day and I would earn 750 euros per month. I got the job even though I did explain that I had no previous experience, to which the interviewer said “You are a women, of course you know how to clean”. Whilst being shown around this small complex I noticed that it was quite run down but the location could not be faulted and I looked upon my new employers as wise and clever people for securing the property nineteen years earlier. I was so excited that I had managed to come across a job with a contract, very hard to find for any new-comer, and I returned to the restaurant to celebrate my success feeling very happy to have finally found work.
My employers were keen for me to sign a contract but first I had to sort out my social security and NIE number so I went into Puerto del Rosario to start the process and was told by the police that I would need to return to their offices in a month’s time.
I started my job five days later. The day began and with it came a change in the wind direction bringing it directly from the Sahara with a temperature of 38 degrees in the shade.
I arrived early at 11.50 ready to work my five hours. I was shown where all the sheets and towels were kept in the cellar and then, with a heavy bag on my shoulder, I was taken to the first duplex.
Prior to starting this job I had asked a few veteran cleaners for advice. One bit of information that was passed to me was that duplexes could take two hours or more to clean.
I laid down my bag and went off to remove the dirty linen. Eager to impress my new employers I began working hard despite the heat. My boss arrived after about half an hour to check my progress. She looked around and then started to shout and shriek at me to work faster, telling me there was much worked that needed to be completed that day. Phrases such as “Come on”, “Work Faster” and “You are being too slow” rose up the stairs towards me. I was not wearing a watch and wondered if my quick glimpses out at the incredible views had taken too long, so I put my back into it and got stuck in. Remember folks it is now 42 degrees in the shade and any sensible person on that day would be sitting in front of a fan sipping a cold drink.
I had asked my boss to please not shout at me but she did not seem to listen. However she did leave me alone for about ten minutes giving me some respite from her instructions. I continued to work hard and finally finished the two bedroom duplex and terrace.
As I carried the dirty laundry, pushing my mop and bucket, back to the cellar I glanced into the reception area only to notice that I had completed the first duplex in just one hour and twenty minutes. I sat for a moment to rest my muscles and to smoke a cigarette.
The boss then informed me that there were two more duplexes to finish by the end of the day. I worked until 19.30 that evening and felt utterly exhausted. During the day I had stopped only to consume about one litre of water and smoke a total of two cigarettes, no official break was offered to me.
The next morning, my day off, I woke with bad stomach pains and spent most of the day huddled up reading and sleeping.
The following day I went back, praying that things would be improved. When I nervously asked about my tasks for the day I was informed that it would be an easier day than yesterday as their previous cleaner had left without finishing all her work and so it had been left to me.
There had been five days between my appointment for the job and my starting date when I would have happily come in and been trained to work to the required standard.
Prior to starting work I began to evaluate my plans and thought that I could stay in El Cotillo for a longer period than I had first planned. Within one week I was longing for the end of August to arrive so that I could leave this job. At this time the receptionist was away. She was the saving grace of this job, she made me laugh and found my daily fights with sheets and mattresses amusing and while my bed making skills were not the best there was definitely improvement by the day. In her absence I was alone with the “She Devil”.
On one occasion I was half way through cleaning an apartment when the boss arrived, walked over my freshly washed floor and looked into the clean bathroom and screeched that I had forgotten to change the towels. Now the scary part: I had not forgotten, the towels were clean but grey with age.
After the first three days the boss and I avoided speaking unless it was work related and the atmosphere was unbearable. The only thing that I could think about was leaving this job which felt like a prison sentence.
My boss had told me that I needed to get the Social Security number so that it could be adhered to my contract, and that I did not have to wait until the NIE was issued. On my second day off I went back to Puerto del Rosario a second time to attend to the matter. The next day I gave my boss the original Social Security letter so that she could photocopy it for her records. She said that she would return it to me in a few moments. (Later that day she denined having the letter. ) I continued with my duties and after about five minutes had passed, a couple arrived and showed me their documents where they had booked their holiday and could they check-in.
I explained that I was “Just the cleaner” and that I would find the manager for them. I spent 30 minutes looking for the boss, checking in all the apartments, the reception area (remember the receptionist is on holiday), the cellar and I rang the doorbell to her house calling to her over the wall.
After being unsuccessful in my search I decided not to leave the waiting customers any longer and made an assessment using the information that I already had. I had been told that there were a party of two arriving that day and I had made the apartment ready for them. I found the guests and led them to the apartment, and opened the door explaining that I was not totally sure that this would be their apartment but if they could wait until I had located the manager I would ask her to come to them. I asked them not to unpack at this time but at least they could get out of the sun and wait in more comfortable surroundings.
I continued with my work and 45 minutes later when my boss re-appeared I explained my actions to her. She looked me in the eye and demanded to know why I had allowed them into the room without her permission. I explained that I had to make an educated guess and apologised for using my initiative without consulting her. She beckoned for me to follow her and she led me to the car park. She then proceeded to scream at me for what seemed to be about five minutes saying that I was just a cleaner, that I was stupid and that I was not allowed to open any doors for her guests. She continued by saying that I should have sent them away and told them to return later in the day and that when she was in her house she was not to be disturbed implying that she was way too busy to be interrupted for guests if they should arrive too early. Remember the receptionist was on holiday, the boss could not be contacted which left just me.
With a wave of her hand she dismissed me and as I bent down to pick up my laundry bag in an effort to return to work I noticed that there were three (gob-smacked) guests that had witnessed my reprimand. I was extremely angry and humiliated and immediately told my boss that she could accept one week’s notice of my leaving the job.
I worked for the next three days and on the fourth day the boss said that I need not work anymore. Before I left I asked how I would receive the money that was owed to me and I was told to speak to her husband who would deal with it at the end of the month. I asked for his telephone number, repeatedly, so that I could contact him and after about five minutes she gave in and gave me the number.
About a week later I was walking past and saw the receptionist, I followed her into the office as I wanted to thank her for being so nice during the short time that we had worked together. She informed me that she had my wages. She gave me 240 euros. Now I am sure that you can work this out but my calculations were as follows:
10 days at 5 hours per day at an hourly rate of 6.72 equal 349 euros.
Money received 240 euros.
I asked where the rest of the money was and she told me that I had to pay for the accountancy fees, which were 75 euros and that I had only worked 4.5 hours a day. The remainder of the missing money could not be explained.
I have spent the last week going from one office to another in Puerto del Rosario in an effort to retrieve the money that I am owed but with no signed contract my only course of action is to take out a denuncia on my employers. This is a very lengthy process and an expensive one should I need to go to court. I have also contacted my ex employers, but while the wife has begged me to leave her alone and speak to her husband, he phone remains switched off.
For 109 euros it does not seem to be worth the effort but I do feel it is important for others to be aware of what happened to me and hopefully this will alert any perspective employees to the pitfalls of succumbing to urgent request to start work without the necessary documentation.
I wish you better fortune than my experience.
El Cotillo is a beautiful place and well worth visiting, if any one out there is looking for accomadation i would recommend looking at this website http://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/canaries/C531.htm