Mexico: Live to Work for $1.19 an Hour

Salaries of less than $300 a month leave little for Mexican workers to live on. An investigation by Mexican newspaper El Financiero digs up the dirt on how employees at the biggest corporations, including Walmart, McDonalds, and KFC, often receive low pay and experience barely legal working conditions.


EL FINANCIERO 'requested' employment in companies such as Walmart, Vips, Elektra, McDonald's, Oxxo, KFC and El Globo. PHOTO: Bloomberg.In this article, Miguel Ángel Pallares Gómez and other reporters for El Financiero went undercover and sought employment in various large corporations in Mexico. This article shows the stunning results of his investigation. UDW readers are already familiar with Walmart, McDonalds and KFC, but a little more explanation might be of use for those who haven’t visited Mexico: Vips is a restaurant, Elektra an appliance and furniture store that offers credit, Oxxo an ubiquitous corner store, and El Globo a pastry shop. All amounts in the original were reported in Mexican pesos, since converted to dollars. Though we don’t necessarily agree with all of the conclusions presented here, we think this is an important piece for all who are curious about Mexican politics, as well as the root causes of migration today. -UDW Editors

‘Enslaving’, is the word that Doña Raquel uses to define the work that she has performed over the last 16 years as a supervisor hired to promote different brands, from shampoo to food products.

Her work is based on encouraging customers in malls or self-service stores to select certain products. From the time she was hired, she has been paid around $10.57 per day before taxes. With that pay, Rachel has to visit at least five stores each day; she pays transport and food. She has a starting time, but not an ending time.

In an exercise carried out by EL Financiero, employment as cashiers, sellers, and general assistants was sought from companies like Walmart, Vips, Elektra, McDonald’s, Oxxo, KFC, and El Globo.

In the investigation, we found minimum wages, workdays of more than 10 hours, trial periods of several months without payment of the IMSS [Translator’s Note: Mexican Institute for Social Security] and payments per hour of less than $1.63.

The information obtained was provided by managers, employees of the human resource offices, as well as workers of the companies, whose names and positions this media will not publish.

  • Walmart

When you go to seek employment as cashier at Walmart the offer is the following: you receive $1.19 per hour in a 7-hour day (with an hour for lunch included), equivalent to a salary of $165 per month; or you can work a 9-hour day (with a meal included) and be paid $276 per month.

In both cases, the retail company gives employees a monthly grocery voucher and pays the benefits required by law. This year, the chain, the largest employer in the country, plans to generate around 15,000 positions, most associated with the opening of new stores.

For Jose Luis de la Cruz, director of the Center for Research in Economics and Business of the Tecnológico of Monterrey, this type of job does not generate well-being in the country, regardless of the fact that thousands of these jobs are generated; however he says it is not exploitation or abuse because the company obeys the law.

  • Elektra

In case of Elektra, a cashier is not an eligible to apply for IMSS in the first five months of work, with the argument of the company that the worker is on probation.

A day’s work in Elektra extends from 8:30am to 9:30pm with two hours for eating, which means 11 hours of work on the sales floor and two for eating, in total 13 hours.

The salary is $260 per month, with a day off during the week (but not Saturday nor Sunday). The so-called training lasts 5 months, after which the employee is entitled to full lawful benefits.

Jorge de Presno, a lawyer at Basham, Ringe & Correa, explained that in general the IMSS payment and legal benefits are something that should not be subject to probationary periods, plus the working day should not exceed 8 hours during daylight hours, 7.5 hours and 7 hours mixed night shift.

He clarified that it is allowable for employees to work more hours than those considered by law only when they don’t exceed 48 hours per week of day shifts, 45 a day in mixed shifts, or 42 hours for night shifts.

That is to say, a worker should be able to accommodate his/her schedule as follows: four days with 10 hours a day of work, a fifth day with 8 hours of work and two days of rest.

“‘In response to your question, can a day of more than 10 hours be legal,’ the answer is yes, but under the conditions which I explain: for the benefit of the worker,” he added.

  • McDonald’s

For a general employee of McDonald’s – who works as a cashier, cleaning, or in the kitchen – days are 10 hours long with 30 minutes for eating, and a day of rest that can be negotiated with the manager. Employment includes attending to the orders of the clients, cleaning and other activities, with a salary of around $244 a month.

A general employee in KFC, who works as a cashier, in cleaning and providing customer service, receives $163 monthly or the equivalent to a payment of 81¢ per hour. They work eight hours, with half an hour for a meal and with law benefits. In case of El Globo, Oxxo, Vips and Burger King, wages hover between $162 and $244 plus legally required benefits.

  • Workers’ Stories

In anticipation of their first work interview with Walmart, Melchor, Francisco and Jessica, applicants to positions as cashiers and general employees, shared their anecdotes about seeking employment: they leave their job application in places where they know that there are hundreds interested, they visit companies that treat them as if they were offering the best work, and then they take part in dozens of frustrated interviews in order to obtain a job.

They also talked about excesses in the agreed schedules; how they need to reduce expenditures on food and transport, as well as how little can be done with $162 or $244 per month.

Alfonso Bouzas Ortiz, a researcher at the Institute of Economic Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explained that the conditions described above in Mexico don’t show competitiveness but the degradation of work. “Competitiveness is related to qualification and training, and here what is happening is savage exploitation,” he said.

Antonia Terán, professor at the School of Economics and Business Administration at the Panamerican University, proposed that the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, headed by Alfonso Navarrete Prida, make company visits to verify that the law is being obeyed. She said that the issue is, in many cases, alarming. The professor said that the minimum wage has been distorted, to the point of not providing for basic needs of food and clothing.

Information provided by El Financiero Diario.