We’d like to share with you a situation that’s developed recently that affects our work in Palomas. In the last month, a maquiladora–a free trade manufacturing plant–in Juarez has started bussing two shifts of workers from Palomas to their plant that assembles Dell computers. This week, the number has risen to 300 people who commute to Juarez five days each week to work a ten hour shift. Juarez is a two hour trip one way from Palomas.
The workers, men and women, make about $1.66 per hour. Their weekly salary is $1,250 pesos, roughly $80.
We at Border Partners are feeling the impact of this outflow of able-bodied people from the town. There are fewer people on the streets, so the town feels more vacant. Our programs are affected. One example of that is that many of our loyal volunteers are no longer able to work in the community garden.
These jobs complicate family life. One of our staff people, for instance, must take care of her grandchildren each afternoon and evening so her daughter can work the night shift.
We feel conflicted about this new employment development in Palomas. The opportunity for employment is positive because there are so few jobs in Palomas. Employment is a consistent need and we’re glad that people can experience the dignity of work and earn some money. But, at the same time we wonder: is it reasonable for a person to commute so far and work such long hours to earn this very low wage?
In addition, exporting personnel for work has ushered in what appears to us to be a new social problem in Palomas. There are many children who are left at home with no adult on site while the parent or guardian is gone for their 14 hour workday. Currently, school is still in session, and that alleviates the ramifications for now. But, from the beginning of July until mid August, there will be no school or other facility for these unattended children. A parent cannot afford to pay for child care from the low wages they’re earning. We see the potential for some very negative consequences due to work-related parental absence in the homes.
There are no easy answers.