Why Mexico's Domestic Workers Deserve Better

Millions of Mexicans rely on domestic workers, mostly women, who are underpaid, lack benefits, and face discrimination. Legal protections exist but are rarely enforced. We need to see domestic work as valuable and fight for fair treatment of these essential workers.

Why Mexico's Domestic Workers Deserve Better
A domestic worker wipes down a kitchen countertop, sunlight streaming through the window.

They arrive before the roosters crow and leave after the last dishes are washed. They are the backbone of countless families, juggling childcare, cooking, cleaning, and sometimes even acting as confidantes. Yet, domestic workers in Mexico, predominantly women, toil in the shadows, their labor often undervalued and their rights unrecognized.

Ariana Rodríguez González, an academic at the National School of Social Work, paints a stark picture. Domestic work, she says, has been relegated to the realm of the invisible. Historically, these essential workers have been excluded and discriminated against. Society, she argues, views their tasks – caring for children, elders, and the home itself – as an inherent part of womanhood, something natural and undeserving of reward.

This perception fuels a cycle of exploitation. Domestic work is frequently underpaid, with long hours and often unsafe conditions becoming the norm. The irony is undeniable: an activity crucial for the smooth functioning of countless households is deemed unworthy of fair compensation and decent working conditions.

Data from Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) underscores the gravity of the situation. Over 2.5 million people over the age of 15 are employed in domestic work, highlighting its prevalence. Yet, these same workers remain largely invisible, their work not considered a “real” job.

This invisibility spills over into their paychecks. The average monthly income for domestic workers falls below the minimum wage, with a significant gender gap. Women, who constitute a staggering 90.2% of the workforce, earn even less than their male counterparts. The message is clear: the value placed on domestic work is intrinsically tied to the gender of the worker.

Vacation days, safe working environments, and fair treatment are often luxuries domestic workers can't afford. Bonuses and other benefits are even rarer.

Despite these challenges, Rodríguez González sees a flicker of hope. Changes to the Federal Labor Law offer some legal protection, a testament to the tireless work of women's rights groups. However, the harsh reality is that these regulations are often flouted, leaving workers vulnerable.

The numbers speak for themselves. As of December 2023, a mere 2.5% of domestic workers were registered with the Mexican Social Security Institute by their employers. This translates to a staggering 97.5% lacking basic social security protections.

Domestic workers face an additional layer of discrimination based on social class, ethnicity, and even pregnancy. These factors exacerbate existing inequalities, pushing them further to the margins.

Rodríguez González emphasizes the need to dismantle these deeply entrenched social constructs. Employers and families must recognize the immense value domestic workers bring to their lives. But the responsibility doesn't end there.

Society as a whole must acknowledge the invisible labor that keeps countless homes afloat. Only through a collective shift in perception, a recognition of the dignity and importance of domestic work, can a future where these essential workers are valued and protected finally be realized. The invisible women of home deserve to be seen, their rights respected, and their contributions celebrated.