Canada’s live-in slavery program

Community News & Features Dec 16, 2004 at 3:14 pm

By Edwin C. Mercurio

Toronto–Juliet takes care of two children, prepares and cooks food for a family of four, does the laundry and dishwashing, cleans the house, mows the lawn, does car wash, shovels snow during winter and is on call 24 hours a day.

She has no relatives in Canada and sends half of her $600.00 a month salary home to her siblings and parents in the Philippines.

Her employer works as a director of a big advertising agency in Toronto; Employer’s wife works as a corporate executive. On weekends, her employer lends her to a next of kin to help with the laundry and watch two additional kids.

Yet, Juliet, 26, is college graduate from the Philippines. Well-mannered and coming from very religious parents she is one among those trapped by unforeseen circumstances into Canada’s acronym for modern-day slavery – The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP).

Juliet was duped into paying $5,000(US) by an unregulated recruitment agency. After arriving in Toronto, she learned from the placement agency that the man was fictitious and that she has to look for an employer herself. With her Middle East work savings almost gone and nobody to turn to for support, she accepted a job offer from her present employer. Her dream of a better life in Canada has, thus, turned into a nightmare.

Canada’s image as world class by its supporters is being tarnished by its treatment of caregivers and migrant workers. Here’s why.

Canada’s Treatment of its Caregivers

Philip F. Kelley, PhD, on the conference on Social Justice last October 30 this year at the Metro Hall in Toronto organized by the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), states that “The live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) was introduced into Canada’s immigration policy to fill the acute shortage of domestic workers in Canada and to provide child care alternatives for more well off Canadian families. Under the LCP, a live-in caregiver is deemed to be a person who provides child care, senior home support care or care of the disabled without supervision in a private household in Canada in which the person resides.”

But, in truth, the Live-in Caregivers, 93% of whom are Filipino women are, themselves, victims of sexual and physical abuse, workplace harassment, exploitation and intimidation. Worse, Canada adamantly refuses to sign the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights and Welfare of all Migrant Workers and their Families. In it the UN Convention stipulates that “No migrant worker or member of his family or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, (Article 10); No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be held in slavery or servitude; No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour “(Article 11).

“The Canadian Government’s continuing refusal to sign the above UN Convention concretely manifests its culpability in condoning rampant cases of abuse and human rights violations committed against Canada’s live-in caregivers,” said Cecilia Diocson, Chair of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC).

Impact on the Filipino Community

In a symposium held at Palmerston Library in Toronto last week, November 27, entitled “The Live-in Caregiver Program: Its impact on the Filipino Community” hosted by the Philippine Women Centre and the Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada-Toronto (Alliance of Filipino Youth in Toronto) Diocson revealed that “the stated objective of the LCP is to meet labour market shortage of live-in caregivers in Canada, giving qualified caregivers the opportunity to work and eventually apply for permanent residence in Canada.”

According to Ms. Diocson, the two fundamental pillars of the program are “the mandatory live-in requirement and temporary immigration status. These two are the seeds that bring forth numerous cases of abuse, exploitation and human rights violations heaped upon the caregivers.

Key Concerns

Ms. Diocson states that consultations done with Status of Women in Canada in 1999, the NAPWC and the Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia disclosed that there are sufficient evidence of abuse of women under the LCP. “These are all forms of physical, verbal and emotional abuse, including rape such as the Mustaji Case and one woman raped by her employer on the day of arrival in Canada.”

“The online auction of a Filipina domestic in the Montreal Gazette together with ovens and refrigerators created an uproar that forced one member of the Canadian Parliament to denounce it in the House of Commons” Ms Diocson said.

Ms. Diocson said that other abuse come in various forms. “Many women were terminated from employment if they are found to be pregnant, told to abort by employer or be deported.
“Suicide attempts were also documented. One PWC member is now back in the Philippines after attempting suicide.

“Systemic racism and discrimination are evidently manifested by denial of access to basic benefits, including denial for Canadian-born children, subsidized housing, employment insurance, child tax benefits, healthcare, legal aid, education and settlement services.

There are also growing impatience and frustrations created by bureaucratic rules causing de-skilling of professional migrant workers. “The case of Filipino nurses doing domestic work is a classical example of this de-skilling under this program. Since they could not obtain points under the immigration program as skilled workers, Filipino nurses are forced to enter the program. And despite the nationwide nursing shortage, they are not permitted to get out of the LCP program, and apply to practice their profession”, she said. Once they are out of the program, they have already lost more than two years of professional nursing practice making it difficult, if not impossible for them to get back into the profession.

Long years of separation from their families also take its toll on the caregivers. “Domestic workers are not allowed to bring families here upon arrival.” As a consequence couples and children are estranged from each other because of the extended separation. However, a stripper from a European country was recently fast-tracked by Canadian Immigration officials and granted permanent residence status under a rather unknown “Stripper Program”. CIC shut down this program last month after being criticized and condemned by government officials and the Canadian public.

Filipinos are considered one of the highly educated and the 4th largest visible minority community in Canada. However, Filipinos are extremely marginalized and vulnerable. Those working as caregivers are threatened by deportation and intimidations by unscrupulous employers when they complain about labor exploitation and other abuses. Fear and intimidation are being used to silence those who wish to come out with their stories.

“Canada must be ashamed of its treatment of caregivers. This country touts itself as a democratic country that respects and upholds human rights. But look at what it is doing to its caregivers,” says Ms. Diocson. “It is an embarrassment for Canada to continue with its Live-in Caregiver program. The LCP Program and its mandatory live-in requirement is Canada’s 20th Century modern-day slavery.”

The RP Government Labor Export Policy

Diocson said that quelling social unrest, the need for dollar remittances to service the huge debt and to arrest problems that arise from spiraling unemployment under the Macapagal-Arroyo Government are the three main reasons for Philippine Government’s labor export drive.
“Dollar remittances by migrant workers worldwide amounted to $8-10B this year.

However, RP consulates with few exceptions are accused of not doing anything to solve problems of migrant workers. Overseas workers are wondering why there is absence of support services to migrant workers.

Besides, their remittances, Migrante International is asking where insurance money paid by overseas workers to Overseas Workers Welfare Agency (OWWA) such as airfare, compensation to families and others went.

“Former President Fidel Ramos’Labor Secretary was accused of using funds of OWWA during his election campaign. The expose’ prompted his Secretary of Labor to resign” Ms Diocson said.
Diocson also noted that provinces such as Negros Occidental where huge tracts of lands is concentrated in the hands of a few are luring many women to apply as caregivers.

Addressing the fear that the scrapping of the Live-in Caregiver Program would force Canada to look elsewhere, Diocson said that fear remains only a threat. “The Canadian government’s position is to satisfy the demands of the advocates and middle and upper class Canadians to make the program better. Canada has no National Day Care Program. Other countries are not interested. People in Europe have different lifestyles. Nurses in Australia and Europe are better treated by their governments compared to RP. If given a choice, who wants to be a domestic worker and a live-in caregiver? Canada has this program because it can dominate women in third world countries.”

Key recommendations

“Clearly, there is a case for the scrapping of the LCP,” says Ms. Diocson. “ Domestic workers should be allowed to come as immigrants so that they can integrate immediately into the Canadian Cultural Mosaic. Pending the scrapping of LCP, fundamental changes are needed in the program among which are the removal of the mandatory live-in requirement and the granting of Permanent Residency (PR) status upon arrival.

Other general recommendations are the removal of the $975 head tax, allowing arrival with family members, granting of PR status independent of family, granting of immediate open visa, removal of discriminatory barriers to access social services and the promotion of full access to settlement services.

The NAPWC Chair also brought forward recommendation on de-skilling which include the granting of full occupation points to nurses, allowing nurses under LCP to access other immigration streams (such as PNP), prevent de-skilling and work towards full recognition and accreditation.

The Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) an alliance of multi-sectoral organizations in Canada is submitting a policy brief on the Live-in Caregiver Program reflecting these concerns. A delegation from CASJ and other affiliate organizations will present and discuss these concerns with the officials of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada on the occasion of its current review of the Program in a round table discussion in Ottawa next month.