Filipino Women in Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program

Community News & Features Apr 1, 2005 at 11:54 am

(Last of 2 parts)

Prepared by Cecilia Diocson, Chair National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC)
Final Draft, Febuary 28, 2005

Funder: Status of Women Canada
Filipino Women In The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP)

The impact of the LCP on women and the Filipino community in Canada

Although there has been a drop in total numbers entering under the LCP since the early 1990s, CIC statistics also reveal a slight increase in the numbers since 1999:

Year Entrants under the LCP 19982, 01819991, 99820002, 19320013, 74420023, 84720034, 134.
Source:  CIC 2005, “Annual Flow of Live-in Caregivers by the Top Source Countries.”

The statistics reveal that a significant number of women continue to enter Canada – largely because the structural conditions of poverty and displacement in their homelands and the need for cheap labour and lack of a national daycare program in Canada have not changed.

As noted above, Filipino women have represented the majority of domestic workers entering Canada since the advent of the FDM in the 1980s.  From 1998 to 2003, Filipino entrants made up an average of 92.6% of those entering Canada under the LCP.  For example, in 2003, 3,993 Filipinos entered Canada compared to 61 Singaporeans (the number two source country).

It is interesting to note that while Filipinos constitute the majority of entrants under the LCP, Canada only accounts for 2.2% of the contracts for Filipino domestic workers worldwide.

Statistics also show that Filipinos continue to apply for entry to Canada under the LCP, despite a significant backlog at the Canadian Embassy in Manila.  In 2004, 7,284 LCP applications were received in Manila; but only 3,371 visas were issued.  This left 5,820 cases in the Embassy’s active caseload.  The processing times for LCP cases have now stretched from four to six months (in 1994) to more than a year in 2005.

It is now estimated that over 90,000 Filipino women have come to Canada as domestic workers under the FDM and its successor program, the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP).  Of course, this staggering number has significant implications for the composition of the Filipino community.  Many of the domestic workers sponsor their spouses, children and other family members to Canada.  For example, in 2003, 1,558 visas were issued to family members of domestic workers.  Thus, the historical and current growth of the community is linked to the implementation of the LCP.

There is much written material examining and comparing the plight of migrant workers at the international level.  Not only academics have documented and analyzed the experiences of migrant workers.  Community-based advocacy organizations, as well as international bodies like the United Nations and the International Labour Organization, have paid special attention to the experiences of migrant workers.  A special focus of this literature and research has been upon the woman migrant worker, who is oftentimes a domestic worker.

The research concedes, “Discrimination against migrant workers is widespread and pervasive.  It occurs in all migrant-receiving societies…” Discrimination in the field of employment and working conditions is cited as a major manifestation of the marginalization of migrant workers, although discrimination is felt by migrants in other aspects of their life.

The research also illustrates the specific discrimination and abuses experienced by women domestic workers:

Violent abuse by employers of participants in the maid trade attracts a good deal of international attention, sometimes to the exclusion of more mundane but pervasive abuses such as economic exploitation through underpayment of agreed wages and excessive fees.

Some of the literature written from an international perspective also seeks to uncover the roots of migration and examine the conditions and policies of sending and receiving countries underlying the massive migration of Third World peoples.  Some of this literature also seeks to place this massive migration within the context of globalization’s drive to commodify migrant labour.  Some literature has focused upon the situation of Filipino migrant workers, given that the Philippines is now the largest migrant nation in the world.

Key issues with the LCP

The following are the key issues that have been identified in our continuing study of the impact of LCP on Filipino women.  These issues were drawn from our own practice in advocating for and organizing with domestic workers and their families, as well as from our own community-based researches and studies.

The issues were identified as follows:

Mandatory live-in requirement.  Participants identified that the mandatory live-in requirement discriminates and sets the domestic worker apart from all other workers in Canada.  Her workplace is her home and she has no choice about it.  This requirement is the foundation for the view that the LCP is a form of modern-day slavery.  The domestic worker is left vulnerable to economic exploitation (long or flexible hours), sexual abuse and invasions of her privacy and mobility.  When a domestic worker is terminated from her employment, she also immediately loses her housing.  Although a domestic worker pays $325 per month for room and board, many domestic workers often have no access to adequate food, a telephone, writing desk,  etc.  Given their desire to leave the place of their employment on their days off, many rent spaces in boarding houses or share apartments.

Temporary immigration status.  Participants also saw this requirement as setting the context for the vulnerability of domestic workers.  Without permanent residency upon arrival, domestic workers live with the fear of deportation.  This makes them more vulnerable to threats from employers, agencies and even CIC bureaucrats.

Requirement to complete 24 months of live-in work within 3 years of entry into Canada.  Participants shared that there are a variety of reasons why domestic workers are unable to complete this requirement, often resulting in their deportation from Canada.  Many agencies and employers force domestic workers to go through a “trial period,” oftentimes for no wages.  As a work permit does not usually cover this “trial period”, a domestic worker cannot claim the period worked when calculating the 24 months.  Other women have had to recover from car accidents or other health conditions rendering them unable to work.

Discrimination against or termination of pregnant women.  Many participants shared that women who became pregnant while under the LCP were unfairly terminated by their employers or were unable to complete the 24-month requirement.

Processing delays for work permits.  Participants identified that the systemic delays within CIC also caused hardship for domestic workers trying to meet the 24-month requirement.

Prohibition against taking academic upgrading courses.  At the time of the National Consultation, the employment authorization or work permit issued to domestic workers prohibited them from taking academic upgrading courses.  Participants identified this prohibition as discriminatory, as it severely limits a domestic worker’s opportunities to improve her economic situation.  They identified this requirement as contributing to the systemic de-skilling of Filipino domestic workers.  However, in 2002, this prohibition was relaxed somewhat.  Domestic workers are now able to apply for a concurrent student permit (which costs an additional fee); although groups have not yet heard feedback from the community that this option is being pursued.

Permanent residency status of a domestic worker is tied to that of her family.  Participants saw this practice as violating a woman’s freedom and equality rights.  Participants thought that domestic workers should be allowed to choose when to sponsor their families, without fear of jeopardizing their own landed immigrant status.  This would give domestic workers the opportunity to plan for the economic and social future of their families.  Some women are unable to obtain their residency status for four to six years, as they are unable to locate their spouses or their spouses become uncooperative in the process (i.e. unwilling to relinquish custody of the children or even allow them to undergo medical and security checks).

Forced separation from their families.  Domestic workers are not allowed to bring their families with them when they migrate to Canada.  Participants saw this as a major source of the social impacts of migration being felt throughout the Filipino community.  Despite Canada’s stated commitment to family reunification in the Act, many domestic workers end up separated from their families for more than a decade (taking into account their migration to other countries prior to migrating to Canada).

Onerous immigration fees.  Participants identified that domestic workers are subject to a host of immigration processing fees, particularly the $975 Right of Landing Fee or “head tax.”  They estimated that it costs $2000 for a domestic worker to sponsor an adult member of her family.  It should be noted that Canada states that this head tax is not a settlement fee; although this contradicts statements made in the media when the fee was introduced.  Instead the money goes into the general coffers of the Canadian government, without any direct benefit given to the domestic workers and their families.
Arbitrary deportation of domestic workers.  Participants identified the escalating practice of CIC to deport and even jail Filipino domestic workers for so-called violations of the LCP, including for “misrepresentation.”  The impact upon the Canadian-born children of these domestic workers is enumerated below.

Forced by employer to work for more than one family.  Although CIC often penalizes the domestic worker for this, participants shared that this practice of employers that reinforces the analysis of the LCP as a form of modern-day slavery.

Forced by employer to work for family business.  Again, although CIC often penalizes the domestic worker for this, participants shared that this practice of employers reinforces the analysis of the LCP as a form of modern-day slavery.

Uneven coverage of domestic workers under provincial labour laws.  Participants shared about the operation of particular labour or employment standards laws in their province and whether these applied to domestic workers.  They viewed the uneven coverage of domestic workers as discriminatory.

Economic exploitation and abuses in working terms and conditions.  Even if covered by employment standards laws, participants shared that domestic workers do not receive sick leave benefits, work long hours with no overtime pay, do not get breaks or are forced to provide free services (such as babysitting) on a flexible schedule.  Other participants shared that domestic workers receive below the minimum wage and are often not paid for working on statutory holidays.  Also, domestic workers frequently do not receive their annual vacation entitlement or their vacation pay.

24 hour home support work.  Participants shared that there is an increasing trend towards the extreme and severe exploitation of Filipino domestic workers caring for people with disabilities, the elderly or the sick.  Many of these domestic workers are registered and trained nurses in the Philippines.  They are forced to provide round-the-clock unregulated nursing care, lending support to the analysis that the LCP is being used in the drive to increase the privatization of Canadian healthcare.

Employer fails to remit tax.  Participants also shared that oftentimes, the employer fails to remit tax and other statutory deductions to government agencies.  This causes hardship and delay for the domestic workers if they seek to access benefits such as employment insurance.  It can also cause further delay in the processing of their application for permanent residency.

Fraudulent schemes and scams of employment and recruitment agencies.  Participants shared that Canadian-based employment agencies continue to scam domestic workers of their money.  These agencies also serve as intimidators, bullying the women into silence and acceptance of such onerous conditions as working for an employer for free as a sort of “trial period.”  Agencies wish to placate employers who request the immediate services of a domestic worker, without regard to the fact that CIC can view this as “illegal” work and deport the domestic work for violating the LCP.

Discrimination in Access to benefits:

Participants identified that domestic workers were unfairly discriminated against when trying to access the following benefits and social programs:

• Employment insurance
• Medical coverage and medical insurance coverage
• Housing
• Workers’ compensation
• Legal aid
• Welfare
• Subsidized child care
• Child tax benefit

The predominant reason given by various government agencies for denying access to these benefits was that the domestic workers are not “residents” or “landed immigrants” in Canada.  This is a clear manifestation of the fact that domestic workers are treated only as “visitors” in Canada, even though they contribute to the Canadian economy and most become landed immigrants.

Participants also identified that children of Filipino domestic workers, including those born in Canada, were also unfairly discriminated against.  While these are issues and concern beyond the current study, we think that they represent the severe long-term impacts of migration and the LCP upon the second generation – and the future – of the community.

Conclusion

As can be seen in this report, bringing in of foreign domestic workers and manifested  in the current Live-in Caregiver Program is deeply embedded the racist and male-biased history of Canada. It reinforces the gender divide where women, continues to be in a subordinate position vis-à-vis men. It is a reflection of that continuing distinction in the economy between the private sphere of the household mostly inhabited by women – hence, cheap, unproductive and invisible – and the public sphere of commercial and industrial production mostly dominated by men – hence, visible, productive and better paid.

Furthermore, when women in industrialized countries leave the home to work, hiring a nanny becomes an affordable option for most middle and upper class families.  At the same time, Canada lacks a national child-care program, choosing instead to address the social responsibility of childcare by providing this option for families who could afford a domestic worker.

The LCP will thus, continue to haunt the struggle of women for equality, human rights, and development.  It will also raise the question of how can women achieve gender equality when one group of women tries to advance on the backs of other groups of women who are mostly women of colour and coming from the South.