Mexico needs more holidays

Mexico needs more holidays

Mexico has the least holiday time of the OECD’s 38 member states. While the United States has no laws establishing minimum paid leave, companies there make independent agreements with employees that generally exceed Mexico’s six days.

(Consuelo Pagaza)

In Mexico, going on holiday is a privilege that remains out of the reach of most workers.

According to the country’s Federal Labour Law, which dates from 1970, Mexican workers are entitled to six vacation days after the first year of service, which is increased by two days for each subsequent year, up to a maximum of 12.

According to World Policy Center statistics, these six initial days of annual paid leave make Mexico one of the countries with the least paid holidays in the world. But things are beginning to change. The boom in teleworking triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health in the workplace and initial steps are being taken to change a work culture characterised by long hours in the office and low productivity.

Two bills that would increase mandatory paid leave have been submitted to the Mexican Senate in recent years. But it was a third initiative, presented last February by senator Patricia Mercado of Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), that has provided the necessary momentum.

Entitled Vacaciones Dignas Ya (Dignified Holidays Now), Mercado’s initiative proposes increasing employees’ initial paid leave from six to 12 days, which would then increase by two days each year until reaching a maximum of 20. Achieving this will require amending article 76 of the Federal Labour Law.

“This is the expression of a cultural change that has been brewing for several years. The pandemic accelerated understanding for the importance of physical and mental health,” the senator tells Equal Times.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 75 per cent of Mexican workers suffer from burnout or work-related stress, and predicts that by 2030, depression will be the main cause of workplace disability. According to Mercado, this makes it imperative to address the problem now.

While the senator acknowledges that a serious discussion on increasing holiday time is long overdue, several factors are now converging to generate a fairly broad consensus among labour market actors.

On the one hand, as Mercado points out, millennials and Generation Z employees have a different set of priorities than previous generations and value employment benefits beyond pay; on the other hand, the rise in teleworking brought about by the pandemic has in many cases extended the working day and prevented disconnection.

Employers give the green light

A reform of this magnitude requires approval from the country’s employers as well as the backing of a majority of its political actors. To this end, an open parliamentary session was held in the Senate in late March, attended by government authorities, deputies and senators, trade union leaders, representatives of the main employers’ associations and members of international organisations.

The goal of this session was to present and discuss the initiative to ensure its smooth passage through the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. According to Senator Mercado, that objective was achieved. “Everyone agreed that we have to change. We just have to agree on how we’re going to do it,” she explains.

José Medina Mora Icaza, president of the Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana (Employers Confederation of the Mexican Republic, COPARMEX), has come out in favour of doubling the holiday days for workers in large companies but supports a phased transition for smaller companies.

“With regards to small and medium-sized companies, the number of holiday days should be increased gradually, first to nine days, then to 12 days, and should then continue to increase by two days per year,” the businessman said in a speech before parliament.

Ricardo Barbosa, president of the COPARMEX labour commission, sees the initiative as a first step towards addressing other important issues, such as the 56 per cent of informality in Mexico’s labour market and transitioning from a perspective of “decent work” to one of a “decent life for workers”.

Pedro Américo Furtado de Oliveira, director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for Mexico and Cuba, stresses that holidays provide “the rest necessary for maintaining mental health and emotional balance”.

As Oliveira explains, ILO Convention 132 on holidays with pay, ratified by 38 countries not including Mexico, establishes that all persons have the right to paid annual leave of at least three working weeks for one year of service.

Mexico and Latin America by the numbers

When it comes to figures for holidays, hours worked and productivity levels, Mexico and other Latin American countries don’t fare well when compared with other countries. Employees in the region generally spend a lot of time at work while taking very little for themselves.

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexico has the least holiday time of the organisation’s 38 member states. While the United States has no laws establishing minimum paid leave, companies there make independent agreements with employees that generally exceed Mexico’s six days.

Chile and Colombia also rank at the lower end of the list with 15 days of paid annual leave respectively, while European countries provide more than 20 days. Mexico also doesn’t compare well with Latin America’s non-OECD countries, including Peru, Brazil and Panama, all of which provide 30 days of paid leave.

Mexico ranks second on the OECD list of hours worked at 2,124 hours per employee per year, behind only Colombia at 2,172 hours. At the other end of the spectrum, workers in Germany work 1,332 hours a year, while workers in Denmark work 1,346 hours.

Latin Americans’ long working hours also don’t translate into higher productivity. On the contrary, they produce the least of any workers in the OECD countries and occupy low and intermediate positions in international rankings.

In a list of 185 countries compiled by the ILO using labour productivity statistics, Nicaragua ranks 140th with US$6.6 of gross domestic product per hour worked. Above it are Peru (US$12.3), Colombia (US$14.8), Brazil (US$17.7), Mexico (US$20.6), Argentina (US$29.8) and Chile (US$30.9) among others – all far behind Luxembourg (US$128.1) and Ireland (US$122.2), the most productive countries on the list.

Regina Espinosa Athié, chief executive and co-founder of Cuéntame, a personalised mental health platform for companies, believes that there is a “stigma” in Latin America that associates productivity with spending more hours than anyone else at work while foregoing rest and holidays, a perspective which she sees as completely backwards:

“Holidays allow people to be with their families, to foster community. They create a sense of satisfaction in your personal life and allow you to feel like a complete person, so that when you go back to work, you do so with a different attitude and energy,” she explains to Equal Times.

As Espinosa Athié explains, it’s important to start thinking in terms of goals rather than hours worked. This represents a complete turnaround in Mexican work culture, where holidays are still perceived as a perk that lazy workers take advantage of.

She believes the pandemic has “accelerated” the conversation about anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental disorders at the workplace, a problem that already existed but which few dared to discuss openly.

According to Rita Castillo, a lecturer at Mexico’s Universidad Iberoamericana and a human resources consultant, while Mexican companies are beginning to focus on mental health and well-being, the process will be neither quick nor easy.

“I don’t think it will be as fast as it has been in other countries because the culture here is very exploitation-oriented and Mexicans are used to being subjected to that kind of situation. But employers are gradually beginning to understand that they need mentally healthy people if they want to get results,” she tells Equal Times.

Some companies, especially multinationals and those with a corporate culture focused on employee well-being, already offer additional holiday time and benefits that are not established by law. Implementing changes in family businesses, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the public administration, however, is proving to be more difficult. As Castillo sees it, changes in work culture must begin at the top of organisations before they can make their way down to workers.

This article has been translated from Spanish by Brandon Johnson