Caregiver Power

Community News & Features Apr 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Nannies organizing, advocates mobilizing community to press for LCP changes

• Caregivers Support Services gathered 150 nannies to speak out, share experiences and plan action.

• Grassroots Hub, a coalition of faith-based, ecumenical and community groups, plans dialogue with Min. Jason Kenney.

CAREGIVERS gather to air grievances and plan moves at OPSEU in Toronto. PHOTOS: HG

CAREGIVERS gather to air grievances and plan moves at OPSEU in Toronto. PHOTOS: HG

Grassroots Hub with Fr. Ben Ebcas and Sis. Haydee Librojo (center, seated)  during founding meeting March 20 at Our Lady of Assumption Church.

Grassroots Hub with Fr. Ben Ebcas and Sis. Haydee Librojo (center, seated) during founding meeting March 20 at Our Lady of Assumption Church.

Caregivers Support Services leader Pura Velasco, 2nd from right, at the March 29 forum.

Caregivers Support Services leader Pura Velasco, 2nd from right, at the March 29 forum.

Those who remained at the end of the CSS session on March 29 gathering at OPSEU.

Those who remained at the end of the CSS session on March 29 gathering at OPSEU.

TORONTO. Nanny power is once again making governments, institutions and the wider community pay attention, listen up and act, this time, in a more visible way.

Whether individually or collectively, live-in-caregivers have started to come out to expose and campaign against the deplorable situation they find themselves in, due to their precarious status as temporary workers in an immigration program they say are full of loopholes, making them vulnerable to abuses as temporary workers, and as a special category of migrant workers.

Following months of mobilizing, organizing and campaigning for better working conditions and a fairer immigration program, live-in-caregivers in the Filipino community and community advocates, have been able to bring their cause to the attention of mainstream media and government.

Over the past few weeks, the Toronto Star published a series of articles on the plight of live-in-caregivers, based on its own investigation that started late last year. Its report exposed the abuses of unregulated Ontario agencies that recruit caregivers, charging atrociously high fees for jobs that do not exist in many cases, and confiscating their passports in an effort to control them. It also exposed the flaws of a temporary worker system unable to protect the rights of caregivers abused by these agencies as well as their employers.

Shortly after the expose, Liberal MPP Michael Colle introduced a private member’s bill which went through first reading March 25, calling for the licensing of all foreign-worker recruitment agencies, and banning the collection of fees from foreign workers.

Similar to a recently passed Manitoba law, the bill proposes penalties of $50,000 for corporations and $25,000 for individuals who violate this act.

The bill was generally welcomed by caregivers in a meeting held Sunday (March 29), especially with regards to penalizing the nefarious practices of recruitment agencies. However, many felt that while employment agencies were a big problem, a still graver situation remains which is the need for the protection of the rights of live-in-caregivers in their workplaces.

Pura Velasco, a former caregiver and now an advocate for caregivers rights, says that while the bill is welcome, it falls short of making employers also answerable to whatever abuses recruitment agencies are imposing on caregivers. “Many cases have been brought to our attention of employers being in cahoots with recruiters in charging fees, as well as in confiscating passports,” she says.

Velasco, who is with Caregiver Support Services, the organizer of the forum, says that there is a further need to broaden the scope of the bill to ensure the rights of caregivers as workers are actually protected by law and its implementation, in light of several cases of mistreatment of caregivers in their live-in workplace situation.

Menchie Cuaresma, a live-in-caregiver who has closely worked with Velasco in organizing their campaign for better working conditions, concurs, and was in fact quoted by the Star article to have said:
“Even if there’s a genuine employer in Canada, nannies are made to work long hours, do other work than in the contract, and not paid extra.”

Meanwhile, Colle has been reaching out to community for support for Bill 160, which is scheduled for second reading April 9. A big community forum has been scheduled for Sunday April 5, at 6:00 p.m. at the Our Lady of the Assumption Church on Bathurst St., which has a big number of Filipino caregivers among its parishioners. The church is located in Colle’s riding, where the concentration of Filipino caregivers can be found. The forum has been arranged by Colle with parish priest Fr. Ben Ebcas, who is the prime mover of the recently established Grassroots Hub.

The Grassroots Hub is a collaborative network of community and faith-based coalitions and organizations that have spontaneously come together to meet and talk about working on both short-term and long term solutions to the serious problems encountered by Filipino caregivers.

The first meeting of the group, called by Fr. Ebcas, was prompted by the fact that a number of ill-stricken nannies had sought the help of his parish for critical needs ranging from financial assistance for their medical needs due to lack of OHIP coverage, legal assistance to help ensure their eligibility to landed status is not jeopardized by their illness, and liaison with their worried families back in the Philippines.

The Grassroots Hub draws inspiration from the example of Juana Tejada, the courageous nanny who recently died of cancer. Tejada had left a legacy of courage and hope for other ill nannies by fighting for her right to apply for landed immigrant status despite her health situation, after she had met all the requirements under the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Tejada was first denied by Canada Immigration to pursue her right to landed immigrant status due to her illness, despite the fact that she had completed the requirement of working for two years as live-in caregiver. With the support of her husband and the community, she pursued her fight and finally won, and she and her husband were finally granted landed status. She encouraged ill nannies like her to come out and seek support, prompting her lawyer and the community to start a campaign for the “Juana Tejada Law” to amend the immigration act such that caregivers would not have to undergo another medical examination after they pass one before leaving their country of origin.

A number of ill caregivers have already come out, and at least five of them have been brought to the attention of the Grassroots Hub.

One of them, Celia Mansibang, is suffering from stomach cancer.She has been helped by compassionate community members, including a Filipino doctor and a Filipino lawyer and caregiver advocates, including Fr. Ben and Sister Haydee Librojo and others inside and outside the Grassroots Hub network. Last week it was announced that Celia and her family have finally been granted landed status. A Thanksgiving Party for Celia and her newly arrived family and caregivers has been scheduled at Assumption Church April 4, 6 p.m.-11 p.m.

Three other Filipino caregivers, however, are still in crsis: One of them suffered a massive stroke due to aneurism and is now comatose in life support in a Toronto hospital. Another caregiver suffers from ovarian cancer, had undergone surgery four weeks ago and is now living with friends at Lawrence and Bathurst. She needs a lawyer to deal with her immigration issues. She would have been eligible to apply for open permit if her employer had not taken her out of Canada for a total of seven months. Meanwhile, her OHIP expires in July 2009.

Still another Filipino caregiver, a widow with four children, was diagnosed with breast cancer in Oct. 2007. She applied for landed status in April 2006 and is still awaiting results. Meanwhile, her open permit expires May 30 this year. She needs a lawyer to help with her immigration situation.

“Sometimes, what they need most is just a visit from caring kababayans,” says Fr. Ben, who himself makes sure he and some of his parish volunteers get to visit each of the ailing nannies to lend support.
While the Hub recognizes the need for action to deal with the short term needs of caregivers, it emphasizes as well the importance of working for long term systemic changes in the Live-in Caregiver Program. “We should work on both the short term assistance for caregivers in crisis and the long term through policy changes,” says Fr. Ben.

Hence, when Jason Kenney, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism had announced in the media that he would consult with the community over caregiver issues, the Grassroots Hub immediately wrote the Minister to ensure that the Hub would be included in the process.

The letter was presented by Fr. Ben and representatives of the Grassroots Hub to Joe Oliver, who represented the Minister’s office at The Philippine Reporter’s 20th Anniversary Gala Luncheon last March 22. It was announced a short time later that a schedule had already been set for a consultation on April 25, 2009.

Even in the halls of the Parliament in Ottawa, the caregiver issue gets official attention, as when in one session Paul Calandra, MP for Oak Ridges – Markham, spoke on behalf of the Conservative Party, to honour Juana Tejada by extending condolences to the family and paying tribute to her courage.

He also announced that Kenney has asked his officials to make recommendations as to “how to make(the live-in-caregiver program) more responsive to the needs of caregivers.”

Last December, Kenney was presented the policy paper “Respect and Dignity for Caregivers”, at the holiday reception of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council. Produced by the Coalition for the Protectioon of Caregivers’ Rights (CPCR), the paper contains recommendations articulated by caregivers themselves during a series of consultations on changes they want in the LCP. CPCR comprises three coalitions — The Community Alliance for Social Justice, Migrante Ontario and the Jocelyn Dulnuan Support Committee. Kenney’s response was to inform the presentors that he wants to sit down with them regarding the report.

At its last meeting March 30, the Grassroots Hub members agreed that the recommendations outlined in “Respect and Dignity for Caregivers” should form the basis for its policy and advocacy work.