She Cannot—But I Can!

By Karl Homann

justice2 

Do you know where and how the woman who cleans your house lives? After hiring Maria eight years ago, a single mother of two, I asked her to show me. She lived at the outskirts of Chapala in a shack made of plywood, a tin roof, and black plastic bags, with a dirt floor and in the middle of a dusty field. When it rained, the water ran right through it. When the wind blew, the dust covered everything inside. No running water, no indoor toilet. No wonder, she had chronic bronchitis and allergies, according to my doctor to whom she has free access.

I said to her: “I do not want anyone who works for me, live in such wretched conditions. Find yourself a real house, small, with stone walls and windows, with a secure door, running water and indoor plumbing.” She did. Can she afford the rent? No, she cannot; but I can.

Cleaning two or three houses a day at 50 pesos an hour, which in many cases has not been raised for years, Maria gains perhaps 6000 to 7000 pesos a month. Can you live on 365 USD a month, even in Mexico, and feed, house, clothe two children, pay the school fees and utensils and take them to the doctor? Neither can she.

Mexico’s inflation rate was 6.35% for the past 12 months. The last five year inflation rate is 21%. Maybe it’s time to raise our employees’ hourly pay rate.

Maria has been working since she was 13 and never went to school. The fathers of her two sons, 13 and 15, give her no financial support. She has no health insurance and will have no pension. She can get medical attention if she goes to the Seguro Popular clinic at five or six in the morning, takes a number and, perhaps, sees a doctor at two in the afternoon. But what good is that to her? She would lose a day of her already meager wages.

When her older son, Gabriel, recently broke a bone in his foot, the visit to a private doctor, the cast, the medication and the crutches came to 1950 pesos. Could she afford a week’s wages to pay for everything? No, she could not, but I could.

Her younger son, Oscar, is 13. He can neither read nor write. He is often suspended from school or just shunted along. Yet, he is an otherwise amiable and smart child. I took him to a child psychiatrist in Guadalajara. The diagnosis: attention deficit, hyper-activity, anxiety and dyslexia. Can his mother afford the 800 pesos per consultation and 500 pesos per month for medication? Of course not. But I can.

Since Oscar is obviously not cut out for an academic career, I take him twice a week to a carpentry class in Riberas (Have Hammer Will Travel), which he loves and gives him a sense of accomplishment.

I am telling Maria’s story, not to brag, but to let people know that her story is not unique. There are many Marias who clean our houses, live from one day to the next and cannot afford any extra expenses for their family’s health or children’s education.

Do you pay your employees’ bus fare to get to your place? At 20 or so pesos from Chapala to Ajijic and return, for example, and any other place in between, that comes to 150 or 200 pesos a week, or three or four hours of their hourly wage.

Or pay for annual vacation days – the number depends on the years worked – as the labor laws require? Or overtime when they work on Sundays, or triple the salary on national holidays, as required by law? Or the Christmas bonus (aguinaldo)? Do you pay a severance fee proportional to the time they have worked for you, when you no longer need their service?

A woman for whom Maria had worked for six years, asked her recently not to come to work for three months because some money was missing from her house, or so she thought. Maria was more upset about having her honesty and integrity questioned than losing her job.

Wait a minute, I said, why three months? The Federal Labour Law requires that any termination of service be in writing, stating the reason for the dismissal. Furthermore, it needs to be accompanied by a severance payment that is commensurate with the time worked and the wages earned. Any such claim expires after two months.

My lawyer wrote Maria’s employer a letter that requested her presence in the office, where the lawyer presented her with the fact that she owed Maria 18000 pesos. The woman was remorseful because the “missing” money had been found, and she not only paid the severance, as required, but also the lawyer’s fee.

Expats contribute a lot to the local community, no doubt, and give to charities. Personally, I give directly to “my” family and know that every peso gets there. That is my way; it may not be yours.

And what do I get out of helping Maria? Lots! First, simply the joy of making someone else’s life a little easier. Secondly, I no longer spend Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve alone or with strangers in a restaurant. I spend it with “my” family, the Mexican way: in front of her house, with a small fire taking the chill out of the night.

And when I get to the point in time where I can no longer do for myself what I do know, Maria can. I will stay in my familiar house, and she will work for me full time, instead of running around from house to house to clean. And I will pay her what I would in an assisted living place, which more likely than not will be three times as much as she makes now.

And when I die, Maria will ensure that my notarized end-of- life directions and the prepaid funeral plan will be carried out. She will be the beneficiary of all I own and whatever money I have in the bank.

For further details, see either the Ley Federal del Trabajo(Spanish) or a summary in English at  http://rollybrook.com/employee-pay.htm.

 

Pin It

Comments   

#6 Ricardochachacha 2018-01-25 21:34
I too because I CAN since living in Mexico. Over the years have given, bought, found, asked what someone needs. Old clothes, shoes, furniture, appliances, why sell when you can GIVE it to someone who really needs it or they will find someone who is in need.Tip a bit more whether it's the wait-person, taxi driver, delivery person. I am part of this community and tell all, we are all in the same soup, just different flavors!
#5 Michael 2018-01-12 01:45
The law actually requires you to pay Seguro Social for the people you employ, including domestic help. This provides access to healthcare, a pension and the Infonavit credit which assists in the purchase of a home at subsidized interest rates.
#4 Kate Schwarz 2018-01-11 22:57
Kudos to Karl Holman for paying a living wage to the lady who looks after his home and will eventually take care of him. I do know of others who have made similar arrangements in countries like the Philippines. One leaves this world the same as we arrived in it. So spread the decency of your wealth and make this a better world for all.
#3 Toni Lindsay 2018-01-11 01:52
I am so moved by this article. Compassion does exist. Thank you.
#2 Mikel Miller 2018-01-10 16:25
This is the best article I've read in El Ojo in the past six years. It contains insights and lessons for all of us who are expats living in Mexico. Congrats to author Karl Homann for writing it.
#1 mikel miller 2018-01-10 12:57
TY to Karl Holmann for writing this, and to El Ojo for publishing it. In my six years of reading El Ojo, this is one of the most memorable pieces. It deals with real life interactions between expats and Mexicans, and shows how all of us who are guests in this country should treat our hosts -- not as employees or service workers, but as neighbors and friends. Thank you again.

Add comment

Security code
Refresh

BUT CAN SHE ACT? By William Franklin   Back in the days of black and white TV, when it and I were young, I would hear my parents during a Playhouse
The Woman Who Thought She Loved Men By Zofia BarisasReviewed by Rob Mohr   The heroine reflects, “While my mind dwelled on bitter-sweet memories
Wordwise With Pithy Wit By Tom Clarkson   This morning, my pal F.T. – who shared the Iraq experience with me during my third trek there – forwarded
LAKESIDE LIVING Kay Davis Phone: 376 – 108 – 0278 (or 765 – 3676 to leave messages) Email: kdavis987@gmail.com November
Front Row Center By Michael Warren    The Pajama Game By Richard Adler and Jerry Ross Directed by Peggy Lord Chilton Music directed
Every Word  Important By Herbert W. Piekow   Every word a writer writes has meaning yes, sometimes they never get published or the book
LEGERDEMAIN—Italian Style By Jim Rambologna   Enzio Grattani was the Editor-in-Chief of a local rivista (or magazine) in Ajiermo, Italy. Locals
 Find us on Facebook