In the coming days, the Mexican government is set to discuss an amendment to force delivery and ride-hailing apps to make gig workers into formal employees, which could affect the country’s estimated 350,000 to 500,000 delivery workers and ride-hailing drivers. Mexico’s labor department, known as the STPS, will introduce a proposal to Congress, aimed at reforming the federal labor law, which has the support of government-recognized gig worker unions and some independent workers’ organizations. 

But some independent gig workers’ groups, who do not fit the union registration requirements or don’t want to be legally constituted as one, have been vocal in their opposition. They worry that the government is primarily interested in higher tax collection and increasing membership dues for the official unions, without dealing with workers’ real concerns.

The proposed law, as drafted by the labor department with the support of official unions, requires a set amount of working hours for employees, plus union membership fees if they wish to join one. “What we want are dignified working conditions for the workers on these platforms,” an STPS spokesperson told Rest of World.

The National Union of App Workers (UNTA) is one of the official unions that collaborated with the STPS on the proposal. Sergio Guerrero, a spokesperson for the UNTA, told Rest of World that the draft law has broad ambitions, but aims specifically for three things: full legal recognition of a working relationship between platforms and workers, full social security provisions to be given by the platforms, and payment according to the number of hours that each worker is logged into the app.

“We have always pushed for a three-way collaboration, promoting conversations between the government, the workers, and the platforms,” Saúl Gómez Piña, a spokesperson for Ni Un Repartidor Menos — a grassroots delivery organization that walked out of the proposal’s drafting process with the unions and the government — told Rest of World. “But right now, the government is just organizing with some unions and plans to force the proposal onto the platforms. It shouldn’t be done like that.”

For already unprofitable companies like Uber, Didi, and Rappi, becoming full-time employers would go against existing business models built around independent contractors. Rest of World reached out to all three companies, but they declined to comment. According to Guerrero, these platforms are drafting their own counter-proposals to be considered by the Mexican congress when STPS’ proposal is introduced.

Providing legal rights to gig workers poses a larger challenge for both the platforms and the workers — one that the government is fully aware of. “The great debate is who should pay for social security,” Norma Gabriela López Castañeda, incorporation and collection director of the Mexican Social Security Institute, had said in an interview in October 2021. 

More than 70% of the Mexican population is affiliated with some social security program. A portion of the fees they pay to access benefits is paid for by the government, another by the employer, and yet another by the employee. Independent workers, meanwhile, can voluntarily be added to the system, but they must pay more to make up for their lack of an employer.

But, many gig workers have incentives to stay out of formal employment.

“Plenty of delivery workers are immigrants, working mothers, or elderly. The proposed draft would outright exclude them from working on these platforms.”

“We have plenty of delivery workers that are immigrants, working mothers, or elderly. The proposed draft would outright exclude them from working on these platforms,” Alfredo García Campos, a spokesperson for independent delivery-workers’ organization Unión de Repas, told Rest of World.

Jorge García de Presno, a Mexico City-based labor and employment lawyer from international law practice group Cuatrecasas, told Rest of World that there is a significant group of gig workers who are perfectly fine being classified as independent workers because they’re able to manage their own time.

That is the case of Gabriela Gómez, a single mother who earns part of her income on several delivery platforms and who is also a spokesperson for Unión de Repas. For her, the terms the STPS’ proposal is pushing for would not be of benefit. “Forcing us to work a set amount of hours, as the proposal is attempting, will complicate our lives,” she told Rest of World

Unión de Repas, which has almost 900 members — most of whom are from Mexico City and the neighboring State of Mexico — is just one of the multitude of organizations that have emerged to protect and vouch for delivery workers’ rights. According to a manifesto published by gig workers’ organizations in late August, there are more than 50 such organizations nationwide. Of those, only two have been recognized as unions by the government. One of them is the UNTA.

“We have 500 affiliated members nationwide, and our goal is to grow large enough to collectively bargain for workers’ rights,” UNTA’s Guerrero told Rest of World. As a state-accredited union, if the draft passes into law, the UNTA would be able to sue the platforms if “there are any injustices in the application of the law,” he claimed, unlike independent groups such as Unión de Repas or Ni Un Repartidor Menos. But, for them, not being able to take platforms to court isn’t an issue. 

“Our priority is for workers to keep their working flexibility, meaning they’re able to be online when they want to, for as long as they want to, without working exclusively for one or another platform,” says Gómez Piña, from Ni Un Repartidor Menos.

Rather than pushing for social security, as the STPS is, alternative proposals by independent organizations prioritize other challenges faced by gig workers. Ni Un Repartidor Menos is particularly focused on road safety, while Unión de Repas is pushing for a work flexibility and gender-focused strategy to protect female, trans, and disabled workers.

“The representatives of [government-recognized] unions work in an office and not on the streets,” Unión de Repas’ García claimed. “[It] is a sign that they’re just government pawns.” He said his organization would side with the apps if they legally challenged the amendments to the law in their current state. “We would take the streets, if necessary,” he concluded.