Mexico to talk to Walmart about allowing older workers back to stores

The Mexican government will speak to Walmart about its apparent decision not to allow older people to return as grocery packers, after they were removed to protect them from the coronavirus, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday.

Some 35,000 Mexicans, most between 60 and 74 years old, packed groceries at Walmart’s stores and other chains in Mexico through a government-backed volunteer program, earning just tips, before the pandemic.

The program, already criticized by labor activists, was suspended by Walmart de Mexico (WALMEX.MX) in March 2020 amid concerns about the workers’ vulnerability to coronavirus.

In recent days, workers have protested outside the National Palace in Mexico City where Lopez Obrador resides, demanding the president urge Walmart to bring them back to their posts.

“It’s a matter of talking to them. Many times things are resolved with dialogue, with communication,” Lopez Obrador told his morning news conference when questioned on the subject.

Walmart de Mexico said it had informed the government’s National Institute for Elderly People (INAPAM), which oversees the initiative, in December 2020 that it would not be continuing the program.

It added that protecting the health of workers and shoppers was a priority.

“Due to the health contingency, we’ve seen that our clients try to keep third-parties from having greater contact with the merchandise they buy,” the company said in a statement.

The company did not comment on Lopez Obrador’s remarks.

Many older adults in Mexico are forced to work even after retiring after a lifetime of work because the pensions they receive are not enough to cover their needs.