Law grants labor rights to housekeepers in Mexico

Domestic workers will get minimum wages, broad protections under upcoming law, but enforcement may be difficult

Mexico is expected to have a new law protecting domestic workers. Photo: Getty
Mexico is expected to have a new law protecting domestic workers. Photo: Getty

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is expected to sign a new law that grants labor rights to domestic workers in Mexico.

Mexico’s household cooks, babysitters, gardeners, caretakers and housekeepers will be entitled to limited work hours and paid vacations under a measure passed by Congress this week.

It’s not clear how the law affects agreements between households and laborers who work less frequently, such as once a week. That would be a typical situation for middle class families who hire maids, often from provincial towns, on verbal contracts and paying in cash.

The government is also not entitled to send inspectors into private homes to ensure compliance.

Despite that, the measure is historically significant. More than 2 million people in Mexico work in private homes and are not currently recognized as part of the formal labor market.

The bill was approved by the Senate on Tuesday after the lower house passed it April 30. Both votes were unanimous.

“This law will help so many women like me continue to do this work but with awareness, with legal rights and without the shame that usually comes with it,” said Petra Hermillo, 60, a domestic worker who founded a nonprofit that offers counseling to other domestic workers. “This gives us dignity.”

A domestic worker will be entitled to a formalized working relationship, with a written contract, under the measure. The law will put the on par with any other on-the-payroll worker, including a minimum wage, social security, health care, holiday bonuses and maternity leave. Covering a full-time employee’s social security contributions alone can cost at least US$500 a year.

It also bans domestic work for people under 15 and limits work hours to six per day for older teenagers. For live-in housekeepers, it establishes nine consecutive hours of rest.

Only four in 10 domestic workers earn an average of US$156 a month, around the monthly minimum wage, according to one study.

In a country where nearly 60 percent of the population has informal jobs, enforcement will prove challenging. So far no enforcement procedures or a timeline for implementation has been established.

The imminent law follows discussion prompted by an Oscar-winning movie that swept Mexico in 2018.

The film “Roma,” by director Alfonso Cuarón, chronicles the life of an indigenous live-in maid in an upper-middle-class household in Mexico City, prompted wide debate about the long-taboo subjects of class, race and inequality.

Source: New York Times

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