By Christine Murray
MONTERREY, Mexico, April 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - M exico's government is planning to introduce a specific minimum wage for its 2 million domestic workers in a drive to boost their labor rights after years of neglect, a official said.
Activists, academics, and government officials met this week to discuss fixing a unique minimum wage for the workers in a country where the general baseline is 103 pesos ($5.45) per day.
While Mexico has dozens of different minimum wages for various kinds of jobs - from plumbers to truck drivers - the vast majority of domestic workers do not even have contracts and are at risk of exploitation, campaigners and officials say.
"It's a group where most workers are women ... they're discriminated against, the vast majority don't have a written contract, only 3 percent have social security," said Andres Peñaloza, head of the National Minimum Wage Commission CONASAMI.
"In summary, the situation they've had is a drama," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding that the country owed a "historic social debt to a pretty vulnerable group."
The Senate this week approved a change to labor law adding protections for domestic workers, including banning the hiring of people younger than 15 and mandating a written contract.
Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last year that the country's 2.3 million domestic workers - mostly women - had a right to social security coverage, and nearly 2,000 have signed up to an ongoing pilot scheme, said the Social Security Institute IMSS.
Peñaloza said that CONASAMI, which organised the event on Thursday, was mulling four different minimum wages for domestic workers - ranging from 103 pesos to more than 300 pesos per day.
In May, the commission will present the results of its studies to the all-male board, made up of 22 business and workers representatives, which will make the final decision.
"The proposal ... is an act of justice, and a detonator of cultural change that we should be carrying out in this new era," said Nadine Gasman, head of the National Women's Institute INMUJERES.
Setting a baseline for domestic workers above the general minimum wage could lead to higher social security contributions to cover the cost of healthcare, said David Kaplan, senior labor market specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).
Yet setting the wage too high could have adverse effects, according to both the Mexico City-based economist and Peñaloza.
"If the minimum wage for domestic workers is unrealistically high, then there's only two possibilities; people don't hire domestic workers anymore or they continue to hire them and they just keep them informal," Kaplan said.
Oscar-nominated Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio helped advance the debate after she starred in the award-winning 2018 Netflix film Roma as Cleo, a young indigenous domestic worker living with an middle-class family in Mexico City.
"I'm happy that the film managed to open lots of people's eyes," Aparicio told EFE news agency in March.
"There are lots of professionals who do important things, but behind them there are people who run their homes, look after children and its right to recognize that work."
(Reporting by Christine Murray, Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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