Mexico: Employees Work Long Hours, Lack Educational Background, OECD Finds

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By Emily Pickrell

March 31—Mexicans worked longer hours in 2015 than employees in nearly all other industrialized countries but are still hampered in productivity and earning power by relatively low levels of education, according to a recent study issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Nearly 30 percent of Mexican employees work more than 50 hours a week on average, according to the OECD’s Better Life Index, a study on quality of life issues in OECD countries.

‘You Don’t Go Home Before Your Boss Does'

The long hours, more than twice the OECD average, result from a corporate culture that emphasizes attendance over productivity, according to Duncan Wood, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

“There is a very hierarchical labor relationship in Mexico,” Wood said in an interview with Bloomberg BNA. “You are there at the beck and call of the boss. In the Mexican corporate culture, it is not how much you produce but how long you spend at the workplace, and you don’t go home before your boss does.”

All this work has not helped raise the productivity of Mexico's workforce, however, owing in good part to the country's low levels of worker education. Only 37 percent of adults aged 25-64 in Mexico have completed upper secondary education, according to the OECD study, while more than 75 percent of all OECD workers have, making the Mexican workforce one of the least educated among member countries.

The weak educational foundation of many Mexican workers is also reflected in the relatively low reading literacy, math and science scores–417 on an international assessment-even for those who have completed secondary education. The average OECD score is 497.

‘Still a Heck of a Lot to Do'

Attempts to improve the educational system have been largely unsuccessful.

In 2012, for example, the current Pena Nieto administration tried to establish minimum standards for teachers, including an examination. This much-needed improvement—in a culture where teaching positions can be inherited or sold, regardless of qualifications—was bitterly contested by the teacher’s union and rescinded in mid 2015.

“There is still a heck of a lot to do in fixing education,” Wood said. “Some [Mexican] states excel in terms of their education, while other states perform way below the national average, let alone the international average.”

Large companies in Mexico have had the most success increasing productivity rates, especially in the automotive and aerospace sector where Mexico has become one of the world’s leading manufacturers.

“The large companies have incorporated the lessons of globalization—they have invested in worker training and have taken advantage of new technologies,” Wood said. “You can see what is possible in Mexico by studying what the automotive sector has been able to achieve.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Pickrell in Mexico City at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

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For more information on Mexican HR law and regulation, see the Mexico primer.

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