Roma Unites Us

by Marcelina Bautista Bautista

I'm Marcelina Bautista and I'm probably the first household worker to publish an Op-ed in a national newspaper in Mexico. I write because I recently watched Alfonso Cuaron's film ROMA and I found in it many aspects of my own life and the causes I have fought for. Just like the main character, Cleo, I come from Oaxaca, and like her, I left Oaxaca in search for a better life... at the age of 14. In a way, I could almost say that I am Cleo. I spent 22 years of my life taking care of other people's children. In some cases the families treated me well, in other cases not. The thing that never changed was my lack of rights: I was never treated as a worker, nor did they grant me the rights that any worker should receive by law. Without being protected by any law or institution, I depended, like any other household worker in Mexico, entirely on the goodwill of each family. Eighteen years ago I decided that this situation was not normal and I started what turned into a very long fight to obtain rights for household workers. When I was watching ROMA I couldn't help but cry because of its beauty and its depth, because it puts this issue in the spotlight again, but above all because it showed me how in 40 years not much has changed for us in Mexico.

ROMA allows us to discuss the issues that concern the household workers and the discrimination against the indigenous population. In Mexico we're approximately 2.4 million women doing paid household labor: this amounts to around 4.21% of the economically active population. However, despite the fact that the Federal Law on Labor has established an 8 hour labor day for the majority of the workers in Mexico, that same law proves to be unequal and incongruent by establishing workdays of 12 hours for us.

In 2017, 35% of my fellow household workers earned less than a minimum wage, which is less than 88 pesos (approx. 4€) a day, while 80% earned less than a double minimum wage per day, which is less than 160 pesos (approx. 7.2€) a day. Adding to that, many of us have to confront discrimination and racism in our jobs. We lack social security, a pension plan and legally bound holidays; our employers seem to find that a normal thing... and many of us seem to think the same. But it isn't. Nearly all of those who are paid to do household labor lack basic labour rights.

In the last years, since the founding of CACEH (Centre for Support and Training of Household Workers), and the constitution of the National Labor Union of Workers and Household Workers, we have fought together with diverse institutions, to get our rights as laborers recognised. It hasn't been easy. Mexico hasn't ratified the 189th Agreement of the ILO (International Labor Organization) that would grant us rights according to the international norm, and although recently, the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled in our favor, Mexico hasn't yet passed any law to guarantee our rights. The government that recently entered office has created a lot of hope for us throughout their campaign, promising a different Mexico that would include all those that have always been marginalized. Up until today there hasn't been any concrete proposal that could guarantee our rights. We expect this to change very soon.

ROMA has given our society the opportunity to debate the rights of household workers. It is inevitable for employers and employees alike to be strongly moved by watching the film, but we have moved beyond the sentiment and nostalgia and used this film as an opportunity to talk about our rights as household workers to great success. In response to the debate created by ROMA and our work with many partners, in recent weeks the Supreme Court has ruled in our favour and the new president has publicly acknowledged the need of legislation. Now we have to demand that the new government ratify the 189th Agreement. Furthermore, we have to continue to push an initiative that has been presented in the Senate to reform the chapter XIII of the Federal Law on Labor concerning people who do household work. We hope that with this new ongoing debate, the reform will be approved on the terms that can guarantee our rights.

For sure a lot of employees will be reading this. We invite you to approach CACEH to gain information about ways to help us dignify our work. We have contracts that can be used to formalize your work and we have guides for employers. Changing this situation suits us all.

I want to thank Alfonso Cuarón for making this a topic of debate in such amarvelous way and helping us push our causes. ROMA has helped create unforseen political and social pressure in favour of our cause. For all the mexicans that continue to fight, ROMA unites us. Let's hope that those who take decisions also support our cause.

Translation from Spanish to English by Hans Bryssinck.