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Pay The Gardener What He’s Worth!

By M.A. Porter


jardineroIf you have a good gardener, you know how it feels: That special guy who’s always out there, toiling to create lush beauty just for little old Señora. Oh, and the wages that you pay him.

I’m lucky enough to participate in the aforementioned situation: I have a gardener who has been with my house for over 10 years. He’s a natural botanist and takes great pride in his work. He works from the minute he passes through the gate until he departs. He continually seeks to please by offering creative ideas, and warns me about plagues well in advance. He washes my windows and takes care of the swimming pool. When we travel, he comes over every day to check the house (verified by our house sitter) and is kind to our pets. Swoon!

Due to circumstances beyond his control, my gardener recently found himself in need of more work. So I decided to help him by advertising his qualities to various expatriates. It was a big success – nine people lined up to interview him; most of whom I did not know. Because I care about my gardener, I thought I’d ‘vet’ these applicants before I passed the opportunity on to him.

My husband thought this might be folly – after all, I am not my gardener’s mother, nor could I fully predict the dynamics between my gardener and another employer. But I had to do it.

I’m glad that I did because after conversations with various ‘vettees’, my gardener was able to land two jobs in gardens where he’ll be challenged – which he enjoys – and for people who are respectful and who will pay a fair starting wage. He is quite pleased.

But I am also glad that I did the vetting because I learned something about expatriate sensibilities.

I pay my gardener well and many of the vettees told me that I was paying him too much. If we expats pay more than market rates, they explained, we upset the economy down here. I am not an economics expert, but I cannot see how paying my gardener another 15 pesos an hour is going to send Mexico’s inflation rate into the cosmos.

Sure, if I can’t buy another margarita because I pay my gardener so well, then the waiter makes less. But my gardener no doubt plows that money into the micro-economy of his barrio. So, it probably evens out.

I feel the wages that I pay my gardener to be fair. (Re: Above bragging.) Every six months, I sit down with my gardener and give him an employee review, much as I did with my former employees in the USA. We talk about how he’s doing, what he needs from me, I document it and we shake hands – and guess what. He improves. So, at one of these meetings two years ago, I gave him a significant raise. And, recently, he took on more responsibility and promised that he could do the work the same amount of hours. He has followed through, and I have rewarded him again.

By my calculations, after talking to the vettees, I conclude that I pay my gardener 22 percent above what they claim are “market rates.” He’s worth every penny. And, I have recently investigated how we can begin paying our gardener’s IMSS costs, as he will soon be losing his coverage if the private gardens in which he works can’t pony up. Which, they don’t have to.

But I mentioned the IMSS angle to several vettees, one of whom grew frustrated with me and hung up. One vettee said, “I need to keep my costs down.” Which, I understand. Another said, “Why would you do that?” So I asked her, do you not have good medical coverage in Canada? She sputtered and said, “Yes, of course.” So I asked, why then do you not want your gardener and his family to have good coverage?

I had the same conversation with a US citizen who, I know for a fact, routinely flies first class to the USA to access health care services. She answered that she doesn’t want to participate at that level of expense with someone as insignificant as a gardener. (Okay, so maybe she didn’t say “insignificant”, but that’s what it felt like.) One US citizen who has lived here for years said, “Mexicans don’t care about IMSS anyway. They can go to the health center for free.”

None of them made my “good vettee” cut. They also won’t become friends.

(Ed. Note: This is a touchy subject that I have long thought should be mentioned to our wonderful readers. Luckily, Margaret relieved me of that duty in a far better way than I could have ever performed it.)

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+1 #3 Dick Yanko 2011-07-17 12:45
Mrs. Porter,
Bravo to you; I endorse your thesis wholehearedly.
Regrettably, the mindset of most American employers falls short of embracing a genuine responsibility for contributing to and improving the well-being of others, much their own employees. Rather, exploitation and greed dominate.
Your attitude is commendable; I salute you.
#2 Shannon Blair 2011-07-14 02:08
Thank you for your comments Ms. Porter. My husband and I just moved here and have seen in our short month here both the good and the ugly expat attitudes. We are guests in their country and I find it appalling the disrespect I see from a few expats. I wish I had a garden so I could hire this man. Pay him what he's worth!
+1 #1 Marion Blackmer 2011-07-11 15:51
Dear Ms. Porter,
Thank you for this article; it is a welcome comment on expats and their role in the local economy.
I agree with you that if one finds someone who goes above and beyond in his work, reward him!
we expats benefit greatly and too often take advantage of the low cost of labor here.
If your gardener is still looking for more work, I'd be delighted to hire him, based on your recommendation, and pay him the rate you think is fair. We just bought a house in Ajijic village with a large garden which we want to bring to glory, with some expert help. We've arrived from the San Francisco Bay Area, and have a lot to learn about local horticulture.
Marion Blackmer

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