Slippery Soap

Empowering women in Mexico’s workforce.

In Mexico, 55% of women in the workforce hold informal jobs, lacking health insurance and retirement fund contributions. This situation is particularly acute in the southern states, posing challenges for women’s economic empowerment. However, the Labour Reform of 2019 marked a positive stride, with 417 out of 447 congress members endorsing protections for domestic labourers. 

The reform, championed by figures like Manuel de Jesús Baldenebro Arredondo and supported by current deputies such as María Rosete and Gerardo Fernández Noroña, aimed to rectify poor working conditions for domestic workers. Despite this progress, there is room for improvement in both legislation and enforcement. 

Women’s participation in the labour market has hovered around 40% since 2010. “Although progress has been made in working with the authorities and civil society to guarantee decent work for domestic workers, the advances are still meagre,” commented a Domestic Workers’ Union leader. 

“Although progress has been made in working with the authorities and civil society to guarantee decent work for domestic workers, the advances are still meagre.”

Leader of the Domestic Workers Union, Mexico

Structural changes, including increased education, urban migration and changes in marital patterns, fuelled a significant rise from 1990 to 2010. However, sustaining this momentum requires addressing underlying issues like family care responsibilities. “Unfortunately, the incorporation of domestic workers has not progressed decisively for various reasons: lack of a culture of protection of labour rights, few employers are aware that they have this obligation and it implies a higher percentage of the family purse to cover benefits,” explained the union leader. 

The World Bank estimates that equalising women’s labour participation with men’s could boost Mexico’s GDP per capita by 22%. The challenge lies not only in labour laws but also in childcare, pensions, healthcare systems, nursing homes and paternity leave. “Domestic work such as ’washing other people’s clothes’, retail or catalogue sales have for many years been the main refuge for women who cannot enter the formal labour market.” The union leader expanded, “Regularising domestic work rather than achieving a higher rate of participation of women in the formal market, only regularises what already exists.” Implementing flexible working hours and targeted skill training are cited as good practices for enhancing women’s inclusion in the formal labour market.  

Formalising women’s employment could increase the cost of domestic help, impacting middle-income households in the short to mid-term. “This obviously does not affect employers of higher socio-economic levels as much, although there are cases where they do cut back on the number of people they employ.” The union leader continued, “If the increase is rather gradual and controlled, it is super beneficial, even at the fiscal level, as there would be more opportunities to regularise domestic workers and thus increase the tax base.” 

Regularising this informal labour market remains challenging due to cultural factors and lack of awareness among employers. “When we talk about the employment gap, the gap is even wider when it comes to domestic work,” explained the Domestic Workers’ Union leader. “If the cost of domestic service goes up, it is good for the workers, but the employers are going to resent it.” 

The union leader stressed, “Of course, we see that this must and will change, but the vulnerability of domestic work is a difficult task to overcome in the short-term. It is informal work so there is no record of what employers spend, as it is done in cash.”

“of course, we see that this must and will change, but the vulnerability of domestic work is a difficult task to overcome in the short-term.”

Leader of the Domestic Workers Union, Mexico

While recent laws have made strides, especially for those working all week with a single employer, protection gaps persist for those working irregular schedules. In the law, insurance is guaranteed to those who receive a minimum wage, leaving those who work only once or twice a week with the same employer virtually unprotected,” informed the union leader.  

This gap in coverage underscores the challenges in fully safeguarding the rights of all domestic workers under the current legal framework, “It is also difficult to follow up and for the authorities to be able to enforce this obligation on employers.” 

Improving the situation requires concerted efforts to raise awareness and train domestic workers in asserting their rights. The vulnerability of domestic work, often conducted in cash, poses a complex challenge and “much more support from civil society is needed to raise awareness that domestic work is as dignified and protected as any other job.” 

Empowering women in Mexico’s workforce requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing legislative reforms, cultural shifts and increased awareness. Balancing the economic impact on employers with the long-term benefits of a formalised labour market is crucial for sustainable progress. Ultimately, achieving gender equality in the workforce not only benefits women but also contributes to the overall economic prosperity of the nation. 

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