Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Employment rights

Posted by lucypopescu on April 23, 2009

My biggest expense in Mexico and an indulgence here is playing tennis. One hour’s ‘coaching’ with Umberto is $200 pesos (about £10). This is expensive by Mexican standards, but about the cost of hiring a court in London today. Umberto does not coach me, as such; he feeds me balls for around twenty minutes, shouts arriba a few times – to remind me to finish a shot with my racket ‘up’ – and then we play a set or two. However it is not Umberto, nor any of the other young lads who coach on the asphalt courts in Villa Olimpica,* but Rubens who pockets the money. Rubens is about 50, grey-haired with a small pot-belly and always attired in a shell-suit; he hires three courts every morning and then watches, eagle-eyed, from the side-lines as the young team he employs teach, roll or hose-down the courts.

After he tried to sell me a knackered old racket for $800 pesos (around £40) I decided that Rubens was a shark; the sort of man who’d sell his grandma if someone offered enough. Umberto, I discovered, has never been formally taught to play tennis – he picked it up by hanging round the courts – and watching television, one presumes…. Today, Umberto told me that money was pocito (little), and that he hadn’t been paid since Monday. I asked whether I should speak to Rubens about this, but he shrugged his shoulders resignedly. I dare not ask what he is paid. Instead, I have resolved to buy a racket and balls so that we can play outside Ruben’s hours and jurisdiction and I will pay Umberto direct.

Earlier in the week, I saw a young boy washing dishes at my favourite restaurant – nothing fancy; a cheap and cheerful ‘Italian-Mexican fusion’ with plastic table and chairs. He looked about eight years old, but when I asked, I was told that he was twelve; although noone would meet my eye. ‘How much is he paid’? I asked. ‘Oh, 700 pesos’ was the reply. From 12 to 7pm? I presumed correctly, knowing full well the time some Mexicans like to take over lunch. I calculated this in my head – about £35; not so bad, for a day’s washing up. But then it clicked. ‘Por una semana?’ I asked. They nodded. ‘And how many days in the week?’. ‘Seis’. For working 8 hours a day, six hours a week, this boy, rather than being given an education and playing with kids his own age, was being paid £35.00. The cost of a three course meal for two, with drinks, in that particular restaurant. And who pockets his money, I wonder.

*The Olympic Games were held in Mexico DF in 1968 and this is the Olympic village that was built for the contestants. After the Games, it became a residential area but now the tennis courts and running track are enjoying a new lease of life.

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