The Secret Life of the Mexican Worker

(Originally from:

Most people come to Mexico to relax on vacation and don’t really think about all the people providing services, everything from cleaning the rooms or managing the hotels. What most people don’t know is what life is like for people working here. It may be of interest to get a look into what it is like to live in paradise but also to work here.

You will notice that most people are happy here and smiles abound. Even when people come on vacation here and look forward to the one week of being here, it is supposed to be the most magical times. But imagine the people that are there everyday, the guest are so energized but for them it is work. Most people do an exceptional job of smiling and being happy that you would never think what is it like to wake up each day and do the same things and match the energy of the guest. Just because it is sunny with palm trees and the beach nearby does not mean people get tired like you do at your job.

Here are several issues Mexican workers have to deal with that you may of never thought about.

Wages in Mexico

As you might imagine, wages in Mexico are low. There are minimum wage standards which are less then $6 USD a day but in reality very few make just that. Here are some general averages for what people make to give you an idea. These wages are for the Riviera Maya which in general is more than what people make in other parts of Mexico.

*Keeping in mind the pesos fluctuates in value and wages do not really line up with inflation nor do they change quickly.

Housekeeper 5000 pesos a month plus tips.
Construction worker 300 pesos a day.
Hotel front desk 11,000 pesos a month plus any commisions if they sell things.
Waiter at nice restaurant on 5th Avenue 900 pesos a day, mostly tips.
Corner store cashier in a neighborhood 120 pesos a day.
Laundrymat worker 200 pesos a day.
Office worker 9000 pesos a month.
Nightclub waiter in Playa Del Carmen 500-1000 a night depending on season but often it is 10 hour shifts.
Entertainer at hotel 13,000 pesos a month.
Where do these wages go? Well this is where you can see that what most people make, most people spend every month. Most people live month to month off money earned and is the reason why people line up on the 1st and 15th of the month at bank machines to withdraw their money. Almost everyone in Mexico is paid twice a month on the 1st. and 15th.

Some resorts offer houseing and some meals to staff. This can be great for young people just starting out and for people moving from other parts of Mexico to work in the Riviera Maya. Many however prefer to live in Playa Del Carmen where they can easily access the gym, grocery store, laudry and hang out with friends. This means renting in Playa Del Carmen. Many people can only afford a room to rent. These rooms are just a room with a bathroom and maybe a mini stove top and mini fridge, these rooms are not in houses, just a building with small hotel like rooms. Rooms can start around 3000 pesos a month and the average for a two bedroom apartment is about 5000-7000 in areas when most workers would look. Sharing a living space is on the best ways to save money in Mexico and is why most do it even if you are in your 20’s and 30’s. This means that most people spend 30-45% of their wages on rent. Usually the rest of pay is divided between cell phone, transportation, and food. This does not leave much room for extra spending and is why going to the beach or the movies is a popular activity.

Working Conditions in Mexico

The good news is that in Mexico there are some basic rights of working which include severance pay, standard hours, good working conditions and health care. The bad news is that many businesses find a way to reduce benefits that workers should be getting.

One way busineses get around workers rights is not to hire anyone. How is this possible? Well, they go to a separate company that hires the people and then suppiles the worker to them. This way companies are desolved of issues with emplyees and any issues have to be delt with a separate company. You may say you work for a big fancy company but in fact you really work for an obscure company that is a small office somewhere.

Another way busineses get rid of responsibilty is by not having long contracts. It can be difficut to fire people in Mexico. The longer you work for a company the more rights you have to severance pay and vacation time. Some company only have contracts for a few month and then you have a maditory couple of days off and then magically you are hired again for another contract. This does not exaclty instill confidence in job security and this practice is used often.

Most people will be surpised that vacation time for Mexican workers is only about a 7 -12 days. Even after working for many years with a company it is hard to accumulate vacation days.

There is prejudice in Mexico and that means a type of job ceiling for some people. People do not like to talk about it but there are basically three levels of society in Mexico. There are the more indigenous looking people, mixed people or “Mexican looking” people and then there are the more Spanish looking people. If you notice on TV there are lots of more white looking people and usually at front desk of hotels there are not more indigenous people. This just highlights a kind of cast system that workers face in Mexico. These are long running tendencies of Mexico and sad to say that many have a hard time trying to change the system but at the same time don’t really try to change it.

The preconcived idea that Mexican workers are lazy and unproductive really is not the case. It is true at times you may get bad service but mostly this is due to bad on the job training and some cultural differences. Many people from the United States, where there are many Mexican workers, may think that the same generalization of Mexican workers is true on both sides of the border. This really is not true. Many workers in the Rivera Maya are well educated and speak two or more languages. Given the same skills, many workers here could do very well in other countries and be eligable for a good job with a much better wage. However the fact remains that while people are very skilled here, wages are low and opportunies are not that frequent to advance.

Sometimes you might think that that service is not good at a place because it is slow. Think can be a reflection on managment because they protect profit rather then hiring more people. Because of this, people work harder to compensate and ofter are busy for long periods of the day. You might ask then, “Why don’t they just get a different job?” Well the fact is there often is limited job options and if you live in a small area there are only so many jobs within a commutable distance. Also other jobs have the same situation and it is pointless to change jobs.

What workers do on their time off

With most people working 5 1/2 -6 days a week there is just one day to relax and start all over. This means it is time to relax and do nothing and the only time people have to shop and get things done like laundry.

A majority of workers in the Rivera Maya work in tourism and this means many work at large hotels. Resort have policies that workers cannot use the propery on their time off so this mean going somewhere else even if your apartment is connected to the resort. Visiting cenotes or the beach with friends is popular.

With many people working in the sun during the week, the number one thing to do on their day off is relax and watch movies indoors or at the theater. This is why you will find the theaters in Centro Maya or Plaza Las Americas so full on Sunday, the main day people have off.

What you can do to make working in Mexico better

You may think that there is not much you can do or the only solution is to tip generously so people have more money, but that is not really the answer. Here are some things you can do that benefit the situations of workers here.

Yes tipping is nice but there not over tipping. Here is why. Tips add to the percentage of take home pay for many workers. While some workers like waiters get more tips than pay, most people receive about 30% or their wages through tips. Even if you are staying at an all inclusive where everything is paid for, tips are appreciated especialy for great service. Over tipping however can skew the system and people become overly reliant on tips or employers lower wages because people receive bigger tips or service can be focused on giving “better” service to foreigners or to certain nationalities that tip more. This can lead to some people being sligtly more prejudice against. For example you take a taxi, you give a nice tip. Tipping is not normally done in taxis except for rounding off 5 pesos if you like. If everyone that is a tourist starts tipping and over tipping, taxi drivers will rather pick up tourist and pass locals standing waiting for taxi. Pretty soon preferential treatment is given to certain people. The best way to tip is follow the normal tipping rules in Mexico. Tip on tipping: Normally we recomend using pesos here for everything but it is acceptable to tip in USD. The reason for this is because it is easy to employees to use USD at grocery stores amd a few other places at a good exchange rate. If it was a location where employees needed to go to the bank and exchange them and loose a portion, we would recommend tipping in pesos only but this is not the case.

Besides tipping, a gift might be well appreciated or an invitation to go with you to enjoy a meal. If you are at a large resort, workers usually cannot join you for a meal at the hotel but if you go off the property why not treat someone to a meal. Not only is it a great cultural exchange it is agreat way to say thank you on a personal level.

One way to really personally thank someone in Mexico is to stay in touch. Many all inclusive resort guest come back to the same hotel year after year and can actually see the same people working there. Receiving a card or a special note when a guest leaves is a nice way of saying thank you. We know many people here that save the cards and hold them dear. Often making friends around the world and connecting on Facebook. This makes people feel more like friends and less like a person just serving other people.

Make guest comments to the hotel or other place of business. If you had exceptional service, mention in a comment or email to the business. Often employees will be rewarded because of guest comments. It is a nice way of saying “Good job” to someone and “job well done”.

Say hello and greet people. Mexico is a very welcoming country to outsiders. It is easy to see the faces of the front desk or your waiter at a restaurant but behind them there are many people making things happen for you. Even a simple “hola” to a gardener or “gracias” in the window of the kitchen to the chef is greatly appreciated. All of this makes people feel appreciated for their hard work. You also will be rewarded because of you go back you will get an even bigger smile and perhaps even better service just because you are nice.

Support local busineses when possible. Most large resort have a bottom line and cutting cost often starts with workers pay. Your cheap holiday is built on the inexpensive labor workers provide. Staying at a small hotel might be the same situation but in general small businesses are often family run and patronizing them will support the people directly rather then a large coporation first.

People work very hard in Mexico and long hours. It may not be that workers can be “on” everyday and you might not have the best service but just remember that workers have more things here to deal with than what you might imagine. In many cases if people had the same conditions and hours in your home county, you can bet people would be complaining about it. Here though, for the most part people are happily going about their business and working hard. A little appreciation goes a long way, so next time you think of it, thank everyone that helps you. People work here and even if life’s opportunities for different conditions are not available, your kindness and aprreciation should be.