Filipinos and the Chinese Head Tax

Opinion & Analysis Philippines Dec 16, 2005 at 1:27 pm

By Ted Alciutas

A background:

From 1885 to 1923, more than 82,000 Chinese immigrants to Canada paid an estimated $23-million to the government. Each paid an average of $100 – $500 to be allowed to come to the country. The result: Families were separated for years because they could not afford to pay the tax. The Chinese were brought in as cheap labour to help build the Canadian railroad from the west to the east thereby linking the two solitudes of the country but more importantly to make available the vast resources of the west like lumber.

Fast forward today:

The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) – Close to 100,000 from the Philippines have come to this country under this category. Under the program’s onerous and exploitative provisions, they have to live and work in their employer’s home for a minimum of 24 months within a three-year period. While generally they can go home to the Philippines for a visit, most are unable to because of financial constraints since they are paid a bare minimum wage. They are only allowed to apply for permanent residence after completing the requirement but have to go through the usual immigration rules one of which is to pay the $975 per head landing fee, which critics say is a modern-day ‘head tax’.

The result: Families are separated for years depending on the situation of the caregiver. Some are separated for five to 15 years before finally being reunited.

The intent of this patently racist and anti-woman immigration policy is to restrict the entry of women from the Third World and separating them from their families would impede their integration into Canadian society. If families are reunited at all, in most cases, they are strangers to each other. Due to the lack of access to government programs like housing, etc., families are marginalized and the children end up as fodder for the low-income service jobs that their own parents had.

Anecdotal stories as well as documented studies of the plight of these women are abundant and they tell of horror stories of broken hopes and broken homes. Their stories make the most hardened cry. This writer cried, but I cried tears of rage. Rage at the system that allows this to happen.

Rage… rage into the night! As the song goes.

Take the case of Melanie Baysa, the Montreal nanny convicted of the death of her infant ward. She too has her own child in the Philippines left to the care of relatives while she toils in a foreign land taking care of other people’s children. Although, under the terms of their contract, they are only required to work the normal eight hours a day, who in their right mind would believe that this is what really happens?

These women practically work 24-hours days at the beck and call of their employers. Their work run the gamut of baby-sitting to cooking and house cleaning and in some cases, driving children to and from school. Employers routinely ignore the contract and the women are not able to complain for fear of being deported back to the Philippines.

Volunteers at the Philippine Women Centre of B.C. have intervened in numerous cases of employment regulation violations where workers were not paid overtime and of employers violating the terms of the contract.

Nurses as caregivers

Increasingly Canada is seeing an influx of nurses working under the LCP – a blatant example of how a First World country is exploiting workers from the poor countries to meet the needs of their populace at a cheap price. And Canada’s medical system is itself sick with an acute lack of nurses.

Yet, despite intense lobbying by advocates to allow these Filipino nurses to work as nurses instead of domestics, institutions and professional organizations turn a blind eye to the problem.

Why?

The answer is simple: Economics.

Why pay a registered nurse $25/hour to take care of an elderly patient at home when you can hire a Filipino nurse (read, ‘nanny’) $6/hour, 24-hours a day and within shouting range at that! Is there any other value-added work that can match this? Of course not. And the government, the politicians and the professional unions wouldn’t want to touch the issue with a ten-foot pole.

And why should they?

It is the law of supply and demand. As long as there is a country that ships their citizens by the planeload (estimates say more than 3,000 Filipinos leave the country monthly) then countries like Canada can always have them for the cheapest price.

It is a vicious, symbiotic relationship that is devoid of human reason or compassion for human beings. The exporting country is saved from economic penury by the billions of dollars remitted back to the country by overseas workers (OFWs). The receiving country is assured of a highly capable, docile and cheap work force for jobs that none of its own citizens would care to take.

Isn’t that what they did to the Chinese centuries ago?

They made them come and made them work in the most dangerous places in the railway construction – blasting mountains with dynamite. And in doing so, blasting themselves to dust. Stories are told of bodies left under the rubble to die.

Yes, Canada’s railroad tracks are drenched with the blood of our Chinese brothers and their skeletons lie beneath those mountain passes that rumbles through The Rockies.

To the racist Canadian government, the Chinese were dispensable. Even with the dangers and the ‘head tax’ roadblock, they continued to come.

And so it is today. Filipinos flock to this country taking up jobs no decent Canadian would take. Living in their employer’s homes like the slaves of old. Some, slowly dying within, with the pangs of loneliness for their own families back home, gazing at blond babies that could have been their own…