Grappling with Caregiver Issues
By Ethel Tungohan
TORONTO–Jinny Sims, newly elected Member of Parliament for Newton-North Delta and Immigration Critic for the NDP, convened a Live-In Caregiver town hall meeting at the Toronto Public Library on June 21, 2012. Co-organized by the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies in Canada (ACNA), the purpose of the meeting was for Sims to hear from live-in caregivers directly.
Since Sims is a new MP and was only recently appointed as the NDP’s Immigration critic, she claimed that she wanted to use the town hall as a way to understand the issues affecting live-in caregivers. In a fifteen minute speech, Sims discussed how her own immigration history of moving to England with her parents and siblings and then later to Canada with her husband made her especially sympathetic to the experiences of immigrants.
Following this speech, Sims opened the floor to live-in caregivers to hear more about their issues. A member of ACNA took minutes and initially tried to influence the proceedings by asking the audience members to “vote” on whether they agreed with the experiences being shared. This method was later abandoned as it soon became clear to everyone in attendance that there were numerous issues that all live-in caregivers faced.
Townhall participants repeatedly brought up issues of the hardships of family separation, with live-in caregivers from countries as varied as China and the Philippines disclosing the emotional pain they felt from being separated from their families. Increased waiting periods for family reunification were highlighted as magnifying their struggles.
Participants also brought up the issue of abusive employers, reiterating the need for live-in caregivers to have an open permit that will not tie them to specific employers when they enter Canada.
Other important issues raised were the unwieldy nature of immigration regulations that made some live-in caregivers unable to meet their required two-year live-in requirements because their elderly employers passed away. There were also discussions of how live-in caregivers faced deprofessionalization and deskilling following the program, as introduced by Cynthia Palmaria, Chairperson of Gabriela-Ontario. This then led townhall participants to discuss different strategies on how to upgrade their credentials while still working as live-in caregivers.
Interestingly, townhall participants also raised the issue of abusive nanny recruitment agencies. Chris Sorio of Migrante-Ontario first raised the issue by stating that the vast majority of abuse experienced by live-in caregivers stemmed from unscrupulous recruiters. Sorio encouraged Sims to follow up on the 2010 Standing Committee Report on the LCP to see whether laws that more strictly regulated recruiters have led to tangible improvements. Catherine Manuel of the Caregiver Action Center reiterated the continued abuse doled out by nanny recruitment agencies and expressed unhappiness that the abusive agency that sponsored her entry to Canada was still in operation. Other townhall participants echoed these observations, with some asking whether the regulations that have been put into place to standardize the practices of recruitment agencies have actually been effective.
Upon listening to these disclosures, Sims seemed quick to reiterate that she was interested in being “fair” to all parties. She stated that while there were certainly abusive recruitment agencies, there were also live-in caregivers who took advantage of the system, though she was quick to emphasize that those in attendance were “pure-hearted” and were not abusing the system. Sims deftly side-stepped criticisms of recruitment agencies throughout the townhall meeting but gave a member of ACNA the opportunity to voice his desire to regulate unscrupulous employment agencies during the proceedings.
Sims closed the meeting by telling townhall participant to make sure that they contacted her office directly if they wished for her to support their petitions and their campaigns and to “organize” themselves. She added that all townhall participants needed to make sure that they formed their own social support networks in Canada.
The reactions to the townhall meeting were mixed. At issue for most was the exact nature of Sims’ relationship with ACNA, whose members have been known to discredit changes to the LCP because such changes led to “nanny abuse” of employers. Another issue was the way Sims did not seem to be aware of the level of mobilization and organization that mark the live-in caregivers’ “movement” in Canada. Unlike fellow NDP MP, Olivia Chow, who has previously participated in similar townhalls, Sims did not give any indication of the specific bills that she was sponsoring in parliament in support of the various issues of family reunification, credential recognition, employer and recruiter abuse, to name but a few. Ultimately, though, those present expressed cautious optimism and hoped that Sims can be an advocate for live-in caregivers.