Employment rights

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.