Policy changes make workers vulnerable

Community News & Features May 27, 2016 at 4:00 pm
From right: Dr. Ethel Tungohan, Ericson De Leon and Evelyn Calugay of PINAY.

From right: Dr. Ethel Tungohan, Ericson De Leon and Evelyn Calugay of PINAY.

Transcript of testimony before Parliamentary Committee

MAY 16, 2016

Ethel Tungohan: Mister Chair, Members of the Committee, good afternoon.

My name is Dr. Ethel Tungohan. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at York University. With me today is Ericson De Leon, who is currently a caregiver. I am here today to talk to you about how recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the Caregiver Program make workers vulnerable.

Over the last 7 years, I have conducted interviews with 103 caregiver activists in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver; 55 focus groups with current and former caregivers in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, and 25 focus groups with temporary foreign workers across Alberta. My research partners and I have also conducted surveys of over 600 former caregivers across the country. In these studies, I found that:

First, tying work permits to employers inherently makes workers vulnerable to abuse. This is because these arrangements magnify the power discrepancy between workers and employers. In many cases, employers force workers into compliance by threatening to terminate their contracts, which mean that workers risk not only losing their jobs but also losing the ability to stay in Canada.

Second, measures to curb abuse, such as workplace inspections and the creation of a temporary foreign worker tip-line to report abuse have failed. You can have the biggest fines, and the strictest enforcement, but if the end result is that workers are out of jobs and have to leave the country because their employers are banned from hiring foreign workers, workers are not likely to report abuse.

Third, the proposal to make “regulated companies” hire caregivers directly does not address the immense power discrepancy between workers and employers. In this scenario, workers are still tied to a single employer and work permit, with the same power discrepancy. In fact, this proposal may even exacerbate the abuse facing caregivers because caregivers will have to navigate two power relationships: the family they are working for, and their agents. Agents also have a profit motive and may not prioritize workers’ well-being. Also, because most provinces, with the exception of Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, do not have clear policies regulating agencies, caregivers are made vulnerable.

Fourth, in cases where there is a technical pathway to permanent residency, as in the Caregiver Program, workers have found the process to be cumbersome, confusing, and inhumane.

For example, immigration officials require caregivers to demonstrate that they will not stay in the country after they have finished their contracts. But caregivers do have the right to apply for permanent residency and must, at the same time, demonstrate their ability to integrate into Canada. These demands are inconsistent and contradictory.

Our studies also reveal a pattern of officials using medical inadmissibility as a blanket reason to deny permanent residency applications. Immigration officers are denying applications without fully considering the specificities of each case.

These barriers create undue stress and hardship on caregivers and their families due to family separation. Caregiver advocates indicate that there are 38 000 caregivers waiting to be reunited with their families. In 2016, processing time for PR applications is 49 months. This backlog has to be addressed.

To illustrate the human impact of these issues, I would now like to invite my colleague, Ericson De Leon to tell his story.

Ericson De Leon: My name is Ericson Santos De Leon. I have a nursing degree from the Philippines and came to Canada in 2009 under the Live-in Caregiver Program. I was able to come here after a friend referred me to an agency in Montreal. The agency told me that they could help me find work as a caregiver if I pay them four thousand three hundred dollars.

The agency told me they were charging me a high placement fee because people don’t like hiring male caregivers. I previously worked in Italy, where I was employed by an agency and thought that what they said made sense.
When I arrived in Montreal, I found myself without a job. My agency paid someone to pretend to be my employer for my papers. For three months, I lived on my savings. After three months, I was getting desperate. I went to the agency and told them I really needed to work. They found me a job with a family but it was under the table. After a year, I told them I would report them to the authorities. I said, “you’ve been abusing me. I have a family to support.” They got scared and finally fixed my papers. What they did was very wrong. They took advantage of me because they know that I wanted to come to Canada. With many agents, you are tied to what they want you to do and where they want you to work.
In 2013, I applied for permanent residency and in 2016, I received a letter saying my application was rejected because my son, who has Down’s Syndrome, was medically inadmissible. I was surprised because I already received my CSQ from the Quebec government. I had already saved money for my family’s arrival and rented an apartment for us when I received this news.
Immigration officials wrongly assumed that all people born with disabilities are a burden. They ignored that doctors say that my child is leading an independent life. Why is my child being treated differently from ‘normal’ children? Their decision discriminates against people with disabilities and against caregivers like me, who lived apart from their families for many years, worked hard, and sacrificed so much because of the promise of Canadian citizenship.
Ethel Tungohan: Thank you Ericson.
I want to to stress that these concerns are not just held by worker advocates. Many employers also see the benefits of improved conditions for workers coming into Canada. Employers need workers who can stay with them in the long-term. It is difficult to have to rehire and retrain people. Having an immobile, precarious workforce is in no one’s interest. Hence, I am in full support of proposals to give all workers open permits that do not tie them to their employers. They should also be given pathways to permanent residency.
In the history of Canada, people immigrated from different countries to build the nation. They worked in farms, railroads, houses, shops, and factories. If they were to come to Canada today, they would be temporary foreign workers. When considering policy changes, I urge you, members of the committee, not to lose sight of this fact.
I’d like to thank the committee for this opportunity and I look forward to your questions.