What can maquila workers do to demand better pay?

What can maquila workers do to demand better pay?

Enriqueta worked at the maquilas, in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, for about seven years. During that time, she started a family with her husband and began to notice that, no matter how intensive her workday, her salary never went far enough to maintain her family. “An average maquila worker in the border areas earns 800 pesos a week. Sometimes that figure is reduced depending on deductions: FONACOT, the canteen, transportation for them and their children, and loans that the factory sometimes grants to the employees. Some of my colleagues sometimes received checks for 100 pesos,” she explained.  

Talking with her colleagues, Enriqueta realized that this was common among them. And not only that, but even if their spouses were working, it was not enough for all of their expenses, especially with small children. “Every family has expenses they need to cover.  Parents often have to work all day, leaving the children alone and at risk of getting involved with organized crime,” she mentioned. 

Determined to try to change her situation and that of her colleagues, Enriqueta turned to the Border Committee of Workers (CFO) to find out how working women could demand better working conditions and better wages. “Working women have to deal with not only mistreatment and low salaries, but other situations such as sexual harassment and unnecessary fees. Many of them are unaware of their rights and that means very few of them demand that the rights be respected,” explained CFO coordinator Julia Quiñonez. 

With Julia’s support, Enriqueta began to research and contact her colleagues. Her empathy, intelligence and willingness to change her environment bore fruit, and today she is the regional CFO coordinator in Ciudad Acuña. “In addition to visiting the workers, we collect as much data as possible on their earnings, the fees they are made to pay and mistreatment by supervisors and some people in human resources. Sometimes they have found that their colleagues who organize are often fired or moved to another plant. That’s why it is very important to conduct these surveys frequently,” she says. 

Together with her colleagues, Enriqueta also explains the articles of the Federal Labor Law on salaries and decent treatment to them, creating workshops in which she explains the basic items that they should have the right to buy with their wages. “Overtime is fought for earnestly because the salary is not enough for them, and overtime is generally paid. Refusing to give overtime is a very common punishment used by supervisors,” she pointed out. “To survive, a family of two adults and two minors requires approximately 4,800 pesos a month in income. That just covers the most basic needs of food, transportation, uniforms and household services. A worker earns an average of 3,200 pesos a month, so it is essential to earn overtime to complete their income and get by.”  

In four years working with CFO, Enriqueta has been able to motivate some changes in her community: initially, she encouraged the workers not to be afraid and to report mistreatment by their supervisors. She has also advised the human resources department at some maquilas to make improvements in the canteens. However, wages are still a recurring issue for Enriqueta’s colleagues. “I help approximately 40 workers a month, but we still need the companies to give them a decent salary that enables them to cover all their basic needs. We still need to see more changes so that my colleagues can live a better life,” she said.  

Thanks to CFO and people like Enriqueta, working women have better knowledge about the laws, and they are coming closer to achieving a decent living. These workshops and advisory services are given thanks to the financial backing of Fondo Semillas, with the support of the C&A Foundation.  

 


Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico