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Sunday, April 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mexico Congress set to debate 40-hour workweek

If passed, this would be the first amendment to Mexico's workweek laws since the constitution was enacted in 1917.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A bill before Mexico's Congress to reduce the legal workweek from 48 hours to 40 has garnered mixed reaction, with those in favor calling it a dignified recognition of the country's working class and those opposed saying it will not benefit workers in the long run and will harm Mexico's economy.

The bill to amend Article 123 — the Mexican Federal Labor Law — went to the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico's lower of house of Congress, in the last months of 2023, but still must be debated and voted on. Debates should resume when Congress reconvenes in February. A two-thirds majority vote is needed to amend the constitution.

According to the latest data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mexico is second of the 45 surveyed countries in the number of hours worked, with workers putting in an average of 2,226 hours per year. The U.S. is 12th with 1,811 hours. The average is defined by the "total number of hours actually worked per year divided by the average number of people in employment per year."

The Confederation of Mexican Workers, the largest confederation of labor unions in Mexico and historical arm of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, said in a statement that it gives "its firm support for a gradual reduction in working hours, understanding that the transition to 40 hours a week must be carried out in a slow and considerate manner, always prioritizing fairer and equitable conditions, as well as job stability in the country."

Though reducing the working week may seem appropriate to further regulate working hours in the second largest economy in Latin America, there are economic arguments against it.

Gabriela Siller Pagaza, director of economic and financial analysis at Banco BASE and an economics professor at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, said the reform could hurt workers long term.

"When the companies, including small and medium sized ones, want to reduce their profit margins, they’re going to hire less workers," Siller Pagaza said. "Or, they are going to hire workers from outside, presumably within the informal economy."

She would instead urge gross fixed investment incentives for more infrastructure projects.

"This would be a kind of fiscal stimulus for more investment in machinery and equipment and, with that, more productivity and better salaries," she said. "Also, invest more in education so that in the long term there will be better jobs."

The informal economy refers to jobs that are unregulated, untaxed and typically involve low or no wages save tips or commission. Workers in the informal economy include street vendors, domestic workers, agricultural workers, parking lot attendants and repair services.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography's latest data, 32.6 million people worked in the informal sector at the end of 2023. This represents 55.1% of Mexico's working population, an increase of 680,000 workers in the same period the previous year, and World Economics data show the informal sector accounts for an estimated 29.2% of the Mexican gross domestic product.

Luis Antonio Regalado, an independent tradesman, said the bill isn't good for anyone economically.

"If companies can't lower wages, they'll take away bonuses, which for a lot of them is the majority of the money they earn. And lots of workers don't work on an hourly wage, they get paid on what they produce each day. Less hours means they won't be able to produce as much.

"Productivity will go down, as well as what workers earn. Sure, maybe quality of life will be a little bit better, but how can you enjoy your life if you don't have any money?" he asked.

Of the largest economies in Latin America, only Ecuador and Chile have passed legal legislation for a 40-hour workweek. Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala have a workweek of between 42 and 44 hours. Mexico sits at the top of the list with Argentina, Peru and Costa Rica — all with 48-hour workweeks.

The Dominican Republic this month has launched a six-month voluntary trial period for a 36-hour, four-day workweek without a reduction in salary.

Julia Quiñónez, director of Border Committee of Workers, a grassroots group that supports workers' rights in seven U.S.-Mexico border cities, says the bill will give workers the dignity they deserve.

"Winning the right to reduce working days to five with the payment of seven is the reevaluation of the working force as the productive axis of the economic system," she said in an email.

Under the current system, Quiñónez said the exhausting 48-hour workweeks at maquiladoras — assembly factories that are largely duty- and tariff-free — "deny basic rights to workers such as the necessary rest to recover from the physical wear and tear suffered by the routine, mechanical and repetitive activity that is carried out for eight to 12 hours a day."

She added that an eight-hour workday would give workers the opportunity to rest and participate in family activities — time that is only available during periods of vacation or medical disability.

"The physical wear and tear of workers would be reduced and with this the risks of work accidents or ailments associated with repetitive work could be reduced or avoided, for example, effects on the skeletal system or carpal tunnel syndrome, among others," Quiñónez said.

The Mexican Labor Law was an addition to the Mexico Constitution in 1932 and significantly amended in 2021 to abolish subcontracting or outsourcing employment. In 2022, lawmakers amended the law again with a 22% boost in the minimum wage.

Categories / Employment, International, Law, Politics

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