Age discrimination flourishes in Mexico

MEXICO CITY -- When his employer went belly-up five years ago, flight attendant Javier Vazquez should have had no problem getting another job.

His résumé was stellar: eight years of experience, fluency in three languages and a hard-to-get U.S. traveler's visa. Plus, air travel was booming in Mexico, creating a demand for flight attendants.

There was only one problem: Vazquez was 37. And in Mexico, where blatant age discrimination is not only tolerated but expected, people over 35 need not apply.

Although slimy hiring practices are widespread in Mexico — want ads for female secretaries with "good presentation" are notorious — age discrimination is the most common, labor-rights groups say.

The practice robs Mexico's economy of experienced workers, discourages people from investing time in post-graduate degrees that could help the country advance and drives professionals into the vast, untaxed sector of odd jobs and street vending, experts said. It also happens to be illegal, but Mexico's labor laws are rarely enforced.

"The government doesn't care about this problem," Vazquez said. "They prefer that people continue to emigrate."

Mexican authorities admit they are lax in enforcing laws against age discrimination.

"Not denouncing these kinds of practices is a failure on our part," said Jean Philbert Mobwa-Mobwa, director of complaints at the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination.

People are more resigned to age discrimination in Mexico partly because of the country's relative youthfulness, said Jorge Barajas, director of Mexico's Center for Labor Reflection and Action, an advocacy group.

The country's median age is 24, compared with 35 in the USA, and 58.8 million of Mexico's 103 million people are under 30. That leaves a glut of young people looking for work. And because many Mexican youths live with their parents until marriage, they're willing to work for much less than older, married employees.

"The companies hire (younger employees) because they have smaller family responsibilities, so they can live with less income and cause fewer problems," Barajas said.

The first article of Mexico's 1917 constitution prohibits "all discrimination motivated by ethnic or national origin, gender, age, disabilities, social condition, health conditions, religion, opinions, preferences, marital status or anything else that threatens human dignity or degrades the rights and liberties of people."

Mexico's Law to Prohibit and Eliminate Discrimination also outlaws age-based hiring practices but does not specify a punishment.

Still, only three people submitted complaints about age discrimination to the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination that year, according to the annual report of the government-run agency.

The offenders aren't just Mexican companies. In one recent newspaper ad, Office Depot, of Delray Beach, Fla., sought a checkout supervisor age 22 to 35 for a store in a Mexico City suburb.

Job websites are full of similar offers from Mars, 7-Eleven, Marriott Hotels and other non-Mexican companies.

Most companies did not respond to requests for comment on their employment ads. Others said the ads were not meant to exclude certain people and that older candidates were welcome to apply.

Hawley is the Latin America correspondent for USA TODAY and The Arizona Republic.