“It must be understood why it is important to give Social Security to domestic workers. It’s not a matter of whether it is wanted or not, it is a right and we must exercise it, it took a lot of work to achieve it. We saw it 5 years ago. It was almost impossible because at the meetings, we were told that there were no conditions for them to give us social security, and for it to have been achieved is a great advance for Mexico. So now, it also depends on society, so that this can have the impact we need in the lives of these more than 2 million domestic workers,” emphasized María de la Luz Padua, a domestic worker during the day, who, currently, also is the Collegiate General Secretary of the National Union of Domestic Workers (SINACTRAHO, Spanish abbreviation).
In Mexico, more than 95% of domestic workers are women. Having this in mind, the Joint Program Closing gaps: Making Social Protection Count for Women in Mexico was created. It is financed through the United Nations Joint Fund for Sustainable Development Goals; it comprises three components: Comprehensive policy for paid domestic workers; National Care Policy and Social Protection Strategy for Temporary Farm Workers; and is implemented by the International Labor Organization (ILO), UN Women, and the United Nations Organization for the Food and Agriculture (FAO) in alliance with the Directorate of the 2030 Agenda in the Headquarters of the Presidency’s Office of Mexico and other dependencies of the Mexican Government at the federal and local levels.
In the situation generated by COVID-19, domestic workers face difficulties such as loss of employment; increase in workload; mistreatment by employers, coerced confinement in their workplaces; an extraordinary care burden within their family circle, which may be incompatible with their current job; they must follow, as the entire population, the preventive measures dictated by the authorities, which may be incompatible with their current job; and, as their salaries are usually their main livelihood, they are especially vulnerable to any reduction/delay in their remuneration.
To learn more about the current context that domestic workers are living and the work that is being done from the project Closing gaps, the testimonies of allies in the project such as María de la Luz Padua and Norma Palacios, Domestic Workers during the day and current Collegiate General Secretaries of SINACTRAHO.
María de la Luz Padua is married and mother of two children, one is four years old and the other, 10. She regularly works in places where she specializes in the care of children. She currently cares for a child that is one and a half years old from an employer who is a single parent. This position was obtained through the Union, but with the current health emergency context her life has undergone drastic changes.
“Since the pandemic, my husband lost his job and I have no choice but to pay for house expenses. Being part of the union has been one of the best jobs I have had, since most of my rights have been respected in the context of the pandemic, the employer gave me the social security share and paid for transportation. It has been a work relationship based on respect in every way,” emphasized María de la Luz Padua.
In the case of 46-year-old Norma Palacios, she is single and has been a domestic worker for more than 25 years. Her work has passed from generation to generation among the women in her family. She works two days a week and the other days in the Union; her current employers are perfectly aware of the activity she does as one of the representatives of the Union.
“The relationship with my employers is one of mutual respect. I have Social Security, which is something that, throughout these years as a domestic worker, has shown me that work can be carried out formally and with respect. This gives us all the conviction that recognition for us is possible as long as recognition communication channels are correct,” mentioned Norma Palacios.
Part of the work they do within the Union, is to strengthen the enrollment to the pilot test for the incorporation of domestic workers to the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), to make it visible and know how it works. Also, reinforce the use of Social Security by both, employers, and domestic workers.
“We have the counseling program where we provide support in terms of employment and the other is the colocation program. Precisely 3 years ago, I approached this program more closely. It allows a process of bringing employers closer to the union and the fellow domestic workers, due to the same need to look for a job with the best conditions,” mentioned María de la Luz Padua.
To offer better services, María de la Luz mentions that both, the employer, and the domestic worker, go through an enrollment process. And in the case of the domestic worker, they go through an affiliation process. They begin to take training workshops to know their basic labor rights and once they have been within the organization for some time, they are placed in one of the jobs.
Sometimes unfortunately, although the whole process is done for both employers, and domestic workers, it is difficult to avoid practices that have been carried out for many years. Even though there have been signed contracts, we make the domestic worker fully aware, as well as the employer, that there are always practices that end up wearing down the work relationship.
“We have had some not very favorable endings, but at least a file documenting everything is available and also, for the employers, is an experience and they will know what to expect next time since there will be processes that will force them to fulfill their obligations. And this is how we are giving follow-up and accompaniment. Also, in some cases, for example, domestic workers are very prone to having certain prejudices due to lack of information and that sometimes greatly limits them to accept a job. We have put together trainings for them where all their doubts are addressed and to show how good it is that we can promote this program because it has also led to good experiences like ours,” concluded María de la Luz.
Most of the women who come to work as domestic workers in Mexico City come from other states such as Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz, and the State of Mexico. Many of them are heads of families and come to Mexico City to find an income to send back home, and María de la Luz and Norma are very aware that, in addition to their children, many of them have to take care of older adults and, in contexts such as the current one with COVID-19 crisis, the risks increase, since they have to go to work while their relatives are left alone; and also, having to go out increases the risk of contagion.
Currently, the union has 1,500 women nationwide and the most participatory states have been Tijuana, Puebla, Chiapas, the State of Mexico, and Mexico City.
The work that has been done with the joint program, Closing gaps: Making Social Protection Count for Women in Mexico and the union, has allowed them to form an alliance that is working out well for domestic workers.
“It gives us strength to be hand in hand with UN Women, for people to see we are with the ILO. When we talk about rights, it is not because one day we woke up and decided that it was an imposition, it is just the rights that domestic workers should have; we are the voice of domestic workers because we know what happens within this sector, what the conditions are, what the consequences of not being recognized for our work are and the impact it has had on our lives,” affirmed María de la Luz and Norma.
Regarding the context in Mexico, on December 12th , 2019, ILO Convention 189 was ratified by the Senate of the country; on July 3 it was deposited with the Director- General of the ILO, and therefore should enter into force on July 3, 2021. This Convention establishes that the State must guarantee that women and men who engage in paid household work must enjoy conditions no less favorable labor conditions, than those of workers in other sectors. With this ratification, the Mexican State undertakes to guarantee the labor rights of domestic workers, among which are social security; salaries; access to labor justice; among others, such as daily and weekly rest hours; a written contract; right to vacations by law, etc.
“It must be understood why it is important to give Social Security to domestic workers. It is not a matter of whether it is wanted or not, it is a right and we must exercise it, it took a lot of work to achieve it. We saw it 5 years ago. It was almost impossible because at the meetings, we were told that there were no conditions for them to give us social security, and for it to have been achieved is a great advance for Mexico. So now, it also depends on society, so that this can have the impact we need in the lives of these more than 2 million domestic workers,” emphasized María de la Luz.
The joint program Closing gaps: Making Social Protection Count for Women in Mexico happens in a context where Mexico has demonstrated a willingness to improve access to social protection and decent work for the most vulnerable women, such as rural and indigenous women, as well as remunerated domestic workers by including this sector in the mandatory social security scheme.
“We hope it will grow and now that it is mandatory, we hope it will do so faster. This is a tool that not only benefits us but it also benefits employers. There is still a lot of resistance, it still takes a lot of work to understand that the activity that we carry out is a job and that we have rights,” concluded María de la Luz.
Originally published on UN Women Mexico