Canada bills itself as a country that defends human rights. But many caregivers in this “land of opportunity” do not believe so. They have sad stories to tell.
By Edwin C. Mercurio
TORONTO, Canada – Canada bills itself as a country that defends human rights. But many caregivers in this “land of opportunity” do not believe so. Their doubts stem from their experience as caregivers where according to them they have become victims of equality and labor rights violations including sexual and physical abuse, workplace harassment, exploitation, intimidation and even racial discrimination.
In mid-January this year, caregivers grouped under the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) will present policy recommendations to the Citizenship and Immigration of Canada particularly on its Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). The policy recommendations are based on various consultations conducted by CASJ with LCP Filipino caregivers as well as other Filipino migrants, professionals and trades people, workers and youths.
Introduced in 1992, the LCP is a federal program that allows the recruitment of foreign nationals to work in Canada as live-in caregivers. It is part of Canada’s immigration policy that aims to fill the acute shortage of domestic workers and to provide childcare alternatives for well-off Canadian families. Under the LCP, a live-in caregiver provides childcare, senior home support care or care of the disabled in a private household.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) based in Manila shows that the number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) going to Canada grew by 13.3 percent to 4,006 in 2003 from 3,532 the previous year. Of these, 1,811 were Filipino caregivers, the second largest number in the world after Taiwan.
The CASJ noted that more than 90,000 Filipino women have been deployed to Canada under the LCP, which started in 1992, and its predecessor, the Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM) program, that started in 1981.
Despite the influx of OFWs, the Filipino community in Canada remains a minority comprising only some 308,575 or 7.8 percent, of the more than 3.9 million minority population of Canada.
In its various consultations, the CASJ found that caregivers are restricted to the house of their employers where they perform 24-hour duty. They are made to work long hours, including weekends and holidays oftentimes without overtime pay. They are also forced to accept grave-yard schedules and assigned in types of work generally shunned by nationals.
Paid low wages, caregivers have no medical, welfare and retirement benefits. This situation, the alliance said, makes the caregivers vulnerable to more abuse including rape.
Pregnancy and abortion
The CASJ also found that Filipino nurses who enter the LCP as caregivers cannot leave the program in order to practice their profession. There have also been caregivers who are deported for supposed non-compliance to the two-year employment requirement due to pregnancy. Those deported face permanent separation from their Canadian-born children.
CASJ also documented cases of forced abortion among caregivers to avoid deportation, as well as suicide. The temporary immigration status of caregivers disqualifies them from availing of insurance and disability benefits, medical assistance, education, housing and other state welfare programs.
In a symposium held in Toronto last Nov. 27, Cecilia Diocson, chair of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC), said that the LCP’s two provisions – the mandatory live-in requirement and temporary immigration status – are “the seeds that bring forth numerous cases of abuse, exploitation and human rights violations of the caregivers.”
Diocson also told about abuse of women under the LCP including rape such as the Mustaji Case and one woman raped by her employer on the day of arrival in Canada.
Long years of separation from families also take its toll on the caregivers. Domestic workers cannot bring their families to Canada. As a result, couples and children are estranged from each other because of the extended separation.
“Canada must be ashamed of its treatment of caregivers,” said Diocson. “This country touts itself as a democratic country that respects and upholds human rights. But look at what it is doing to its caregivers. It is an embarrassment for Canada to continue with its Live-in Caregiver program. The mandatory live-in requirement is Canada’s 20th Century modern-day slavery.”
As part of its demands, the CASJ will ask Canadian authorities to remove the live-in requirement of the LCP. It will also ask that caregivers be given permanent residence just like other immigrants, and that they be allowed to bring their families to Canada.
Caregivers should enjoy the same rights accorded to other immigrants such as fair wages and benefits, access to social services, right to protection from abuse and health and safety in the workplace.
The Canadian government should also sign the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights and Welfare of All Migrant Workers and Their Families, CASJ said. Articles 10 and 11 of the UN Convention stipulate that no migrant worker or member of his family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or be held in slavery or servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labor.
The CASJ will also ask the Canadian government to establish a body that will monitor compliance of the employment contract by employers and regulate the operation of recruitment agencies. The monitoring body should have prosecutorial powers, the alliance said.
Recently formed, the CASJ is a non-partisan, political action and advocacy group that addresses in particular social justice issues faced by vulnerable and marginalized communities. With other reports / Bulatlat.com