Protecting the labour rights of Mexican domestic workers during COVID-19

by María Candela Zunino, Interim Legal Manager for TrustLaw Latin America
Monday, 30 May 2022 14:27 GMT

This impact story is part of a new series to celebrate the extraordinary pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams to support NGOs and social enterprises with the support of TrustLaw. All projects mentioned in this series are nominated for this year’s TrustLaw Awards. Find out more. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the longstanding challenges faced by domestic workers around the world, threatening both their earnings and well-being. From cleaning and cooking to caring for children, the ill and the elderly, domestic workers play a key role in ensuring the health and safety of the families they work for. Their physical proximity to the families in their care, especially when they attend to the sick, increases their exposure to COVID-19. This risk is further compounded when they commute on public transport or work for multiple households.

From April to July 2020, when Mexico experienced its worst wave of infections, domestic workers in the country’s western state, Jalisco, were suspended without pay or were forced to continue paid work even when they qualified to stay at home. The research ‘Beyond contagion or starvation: giving domestic workers another way forward’, produced by the International Labour Organization, suggests that many domestic workers during the pandemic did not have access to medical care, sickness benefits or employment injury insurance. Without these protections, the virus spread even more widely and reached even those in their care.

To help Jalisco’s domestic workers deal with these challenges with easy-to-use tools, Parvada Estrategias Comunitarias, AC, a TrustLaw member and a women-led non-profit organisation, decided to create a step-by-step legal manual to train them about their labour rights. The organisation reached out to Thomson Reuters Foundation’s pro bono service, TrustLaw, to seek legal assistance for the production of the training manual.

Soon after their request, through TrustLaw, Parvada Estrategias Comunitarias, AC, was connected with Hogan Lovells Mexico to develop a training manual that summarised domestic workers' rights. The objective of this manual was to explain in plain language, and with concrete examples, the situations in which domestic workers could file a claim, what evidence they might need, and the different steps of an employment dispute they should consider.

Following the manual’s launch in July in 2020, Parvada Estrategias Comunitarias, AC, delivered three training courses for domestic workers in Jalisco’s capital Guadalajara and run an additional session for government officials who provide essential services to domestic workers. As a result of the training, 53 per cent of the workers, who completed the course, took legal action to protect and defend their labour rights.

Speaking about this cross-sectoral collaboration, Luis Rosas, counsel at Hogan Lovells Mexico, said: “It was extremely rewarding to help domestic workers become aware of their rights and improve their living conditions.” Martha Molina, senior associate at Hogan Lovells Mexico, further emphasised that this manual was a real challenge as it involved providing a vulnerable sector of society with information in simple and clear language.

Ana Farías Calderón, Director of Parvada Estrategias Comunitarias, AC, also spoke about her experience of working with Hogan Lovells Mexico. She said: “We had a clear picture of what our project needed to look like, and they worked with us to colour inside the lines and fill the legal gaps.” 

Ana added: “Pro bono legal assistance helps NGOs partner with law firms that would otherwise be off-limits due to lack of resources, which in turn allows us to better serve our beneficiaries and provide them with the tools they need to stand for their rights.”