Just made it back from having dinner with Tony Taylor and learned so much! I’m assuming he didn’t feel like cooking (or didn’t have time) so he picked me up from the house and took me to eat at a Chinese restaurant. I don’t really like Chinese food because it’s always so greasy and I know what I’m eating. I think Chinese and take-out comes to mind. Some people love it and that’s fine #nojudgement
This Chinese restaurant was different. I actually enjoyed dinner. I order sweet and sour chicken and patacones. Everything in Bocas is served with plantains. It perfect because I could never eat too many plantains. The chicken was party wings and the sweet and sour sauce had carrots and basil in it. Pretty delish!
Not that I had a choice but I rode around with Tony for a little while after dinner. He was officially on duty. We picked up this Indian guy who talked really fast Spanish and lost me at Buenas. I couldn’t understand what he was saying but I knew he was passionate about whatever it was. On the way home, Tony told me the guy was being dropped off at the hotel because he is the night guard responsible for watching over the facility at night. The guy was complaining about his boss (the owner) because after 12 years of working there she has never offered him anything to drink nor has she shown any kind gesture or sign of appreciation. In Bocas, people give you things to show they appreciate you. My contract with the school requires my house family to cook for me once a day. Tony knows this but still buys me breakfast food and makes sure I have something to eat for snacks and lunch. I think it’s just a part of the culture here. Additionally, the Indian guy feels like he is in some ways doing the owner a favor because she is a widow and doesn’t have anyone else to assist her. Being a widow in Bocas is apparently serious business. If you are old school, you don’t really do business with widows (or maybe this is generally rolled into not doing business with women?). Anyway, the man continued to talk about his boss but said he can’t quit because she pays him $20 per day. I thought that was ridiculously low but it’s actually about twice the salary of someone making minimum wage.
This prompted me to ask a few more questions about wages and cost of living here in Panama. So here is what I learned:
1. Minimum wage salary is based on the region (there are two in Panama) and the number of hours you work (avg is 45 per week). It works out to be between $350-$416 per month.
2. Average rent for a place in Bocas with everything (air, hot water) is $300. No air conditioning and/or hot water means cheaper rent.
3. People from Bocas cook staples such as rice and plantains because it is cheap but still tasty? (Plantain $.50, bag of rice $1.00). Unlike the USA, produce is also very affordable on the Island (sometimes free if you have fruit trees).
4. Panamanian restaurants with traditional meals are much cheaper than other restaurants. You can go to Chitre on main street and get an entire meal (meat, coconut rice and one side) for about $4. Other restaurants on main street will run you about double the price of the Panamanian restaurant.
Based on these numbers, it doesn’t look like the minimum wage is enough for a person to live comfortably. Here is the Panama Labor Rights Report from 2011 which breaks down the calculation of the minimum wage.
http://www.dol.gov/ilab/media/reports/usfta/panama_LRR.pdf (Page 54-55)
The Constitution calls for a national minimum wage to be established to provide a decent standard of living for workers in Panama. The Labor Code assigns responsibility for setting minimum wage rates to the executive branch, which must take into consideration the recommendations made by the tripartite National Commission on the Minimum Wage (Comisíon Nacional de Salario Mínimo). Minimum wage rates are established based on industrial, commercial or agricultural activity, and factors considered in determining such rates include regional cost differences, nature of the work and conditions of employment.
The most recent adjustment of minimum wage rates took place on December 21, 2009. The
hourly base rates range from 1.06 to 2.0 balboas, with the lowest rate applying to workers in small agricultural businesses (with ten or fewer employees) and the highest rate applying to workers in various other sectors, including construction, transportation, and
telecommunications. The previous hourly base range established in December 2007 was 1.01 to 1.87 balboas.435 For domestic service workers, the minimum salary is set between 145 and 160 balboas (previously 121 to 134 balboas) per month.