Giselle lives in the south, in Tlalpan, one of the 16 territorial demarcations of Mexico City; it is the municipality with the largest territorial extension. Giselle is a single mother of three girls. She decided to separate from the father of her daughters because it was a violent relationship. When she left him, she started working in domestic services. "Since I am a single mother, my needs were greater, I had to take care of my daughters and I had to look for another type of income". It was a subsistence decision to support her family, but also to show them and prove to herself that she could get by without a man to support her. Since then, she has raised her daughters with the conviction that they are free and independent. In 2020, after her sister's suggestion, she started working on the Aliadas app. Her sister already worked there and recommended her to the company. Aliadas is the first cleaning app in Mexico, was created in 2014 with a pilot project and, in 2015, began commercial operations. In provides services in Mexico City and the metropolitan area. This app offers five services: care for pets, ironing, washing, cooking or just cleaning.
According to its creator, Aliadas was conceived to improve the working conditions of paid domestic workers and, in turn, provide clients with the services. One of the things that the app takes into account is the geographical distribution of the city and this allows workers to choose the areas where they want to work. The distribution is calculated through the subway stations. That is, they can choose how far they want to travel to go to work. However, it is in the wealthier neighborhoods —located in the north of the city— where there is more demand for the service: in particular, the neighborhoods of Polanco, Condesa, Roma and Santa Fe. “I can change my zone every day, but usually I leave it as it is. When there are no people available for Santa Fe, they send messages through the app or by WhatsApp. They ask us who can cover a service at such time.”
Giselle says that the option to choose the work areas is a great advantage. Another benefit is the number of services requested: you have more work with the app than “on your own”. Also, she mentions that the app gives her more security and guaranteed payment, because when she was self-employed, sometimes those who hired her did not pay her or gave her less than the agreed price. However, the rate paid by clients to Aliadas is not the same as what the workers receive. To Giselle, the app allows her to choose how much she wants to charge per hour of work in a range between 57 and 99 Mexican pesos (between 2.81 and 4.88 USD, approximately). Giselle chose the rate of 99 pesos, but the app charges 120 pesos for her hour of work. That is, 21 pesos more per hour (approximately USD 1.04) that the company retains. When asking Giselle about the reasons or motivations for the app to make them decide the rate, she says that Aliadas tells them “you decide what your work is worth.”
The idea of this "decision" is very curious, because in the capitalist system it would seem that there is a choice, but there are market rules and systems of oppression that operate, making it impossible for this to be a real possibility. The workers, when entering Aliadas, choose the lowest rate to try to have more orders and better comments on their profiles. Giselle opted for a fee of 57 pesos at the beginning. In addition, for customers, when they request a service, different values are displayed and there will be those who choose the cheapest rate. The minimum number of hours that can be hired from the app is three hours.
At Aliadas, clients can see the profiles of all domestic workers. This includes the photo of the woman, her age, and the comments that previous clients have left about them and their work. Women are rated each time they finish cleaning a house. However, workers cannot rate clients or leave comments. They also cannot see customer profiles. "Here it seems that the customer is usually right," reflects Giselle, telling me with a sigh. The rating go from a maximum of 5.0 to the minimum 4.0. If workers do not consistently accept services, they lower their rating. If they cancel an accepted service, their rating drops too; and the app can even charge them for the cost of the service not performed. For example, if Giselle cancels a job, she is charged the amount the client paid, not what she would have earned. That is, they charge her more than they would have paid her. “If I cancel a day before, they charge me 100 pesos. If I cancel the same day, they charge me the full service. They charge what the app charges, as is.”
Giselle claims that there are more men customers than women customers using Aliadas in Mexico City, or at least she is requested by more men, single men. She also states that men, to select the worker who will go to their home, are guided by the appearance of the woman, that is, they see her photo and her age.
The client has access to our profile, which has a photo, data, age. I think that's why they have access to photos. For example, there is my face and that of all the girls. They do not allow us to have another type of photo: they have to see our appearance. I think that's what led a client to harass me. I am 36 years old; age also counts; I suppose he must have thought that I am young and that's why it happened.
Giselle recounts her experience of sexual harassment working with Aliadas: a man who hired her service tried to push up on her. On that occasion, Giselle did not report the situation. However, she mentions that if a client harasses a domestic worker and she reports it to the app, the app only prevents the client from contacting her again, but does not suspend him from the service. He could harass other women. When Giselle left that house, she told Aliadas what had happened: "After I left, they blocked access so that he could no longer find me on the platform and I would not go to his home again." I asked Giselle if she could warn the other co-workers of the situation: "we don't have communication between us, I don't know if other girls have gone through the same thing [being harassed], but the client has access to our profiles."
If something breaks while the workers are cleaning the house, they must notify the app and the client. In this way, the value of the damage that the client reports will be deducted from their payment. "If something breaks, we do have to notify the client, because the client may charge for it." In addition, clients worry that paid domestic workers will steal from them. In several houses they put cameras and the workers are not notified that they are being recorded. When they finish work, there are clients who ask them to open their bags to check them. “Most of the clients worry about that, there have been houses where they have cameras and all that. One or two cameras in the rooms, in the kitchen.”
But, apart from the recordings and inspections of their bags, the paid domestic workers - inside and outside the app— face discrimination, classism, racism and sexism. There are clients who do not treat domestic workers well, who do not value the work they do. As Giselle states, “many say that's what they pay for, but the treatment has nothing to do with the payment; the treatment must be the same." She says, with sadness, that there is a devaluation of paid and unpaid care work: “Sometimes people say 'I work as a cleaner and you, as a lawyer', but even lawyers hire cleaning services. It is the same, nothing changes due to the fact that you are sitting and I am sweeping… it is a job in the same way and deserves recognition and respect”.
The app company does not pay the social security fund, does not give them a work contract and does not recognize them as employees. "They calls us allies. You are an ally who is going to help us clean up and so on”, but they are workers. Among the demands that Giselle has, she says, "I would suggest that Aliadas have us in social security because it allows us to have a retirement pension." To guarantee their dignified retirement!
Illustrators: Day Cuervo | @daycuervo