“It’s Like I Had No Freedom”

PINAY Points to Injustices of Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program

Ms.Salazar, President of PINAY, a Filipino women’s organization based in Montreal speaks at a workshop series on gendered violence hosted by Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy Photo Geoffrey Vendeville

Ms. Salazar never dreamed of leaving the Philippines for Canada.

Due to high unemployment rates in her home country, however, she was obliged to look elsewhere for a job after graduating with a degree in communications engineering.

After working for a few years in Japan, she applied to Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program.

The application process and necessary job training took her two-and-a-half years to complete.

When she finally moved to Montreal, she found that her would-be employer didn’t need her services anymore.

Since she had lost her job, her work permit was no longer valid.

Fortunately for her, she found another low-wage position as a live-in nanny in the West Island suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, where she worked illegally for five months while waiting for a new permit.

Although she had a good relationship with her employers and their family, she says that, after five years, she would never want to go back to being a live-in caregiver.

“It’s like I had no freedom,” Salazar said. “Everything was controlled by my employer.”

In hindsight, she feels she was deceived by the Canadian government.

“When we came here hoping for a good life in return for that demand [for cheap labour], we get victimized,” she said.

Salazar is among thousands of people who come to Canada every year—the vast majority from the Philippines—as part of the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Now President of PINAY, a Filipino women’s organization based in Montreal, Salazar, along with her colleagues, are calling for reform of the program—which they describe as “discriminatory” and “exploitative.”

On Wednesday night, Salazar and Evelyn K., another member of PINAY, presented their group’s criticisms of the Live-in Caregiver Program in a talk about the “systematic discrimination of migrant women workers.”

The discussion was held as part of the Dragonroot Project, a workshop series on gendered violence hosted by Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.

As a live-in nanny, Salazar says she usually worked 10 to 12 hour days, almost always without overtime pay.

“When we came here hoping for a good life in return for that demand [for cheap labour], we get victimized.”
—Ms.Salazar, President of PINAY, a Filipino women’s organization based in Montreal.

Since she lived under her employer’s roof rent-free—and had to complete a total of 24 months of work within three years in order to be eligible for permanent resident status—she felt she could never say no when asked to do chores that were outside her contract.

Even then, Salazar says she was relatively lucky.

She described her employer as generally supportive and friendly.

Although they asked a lot of her, she says they also paid for some of her food and eventually allowed her to change her work schedule to make room for morning French classes.

Generally, Salazar believes that live-in caregivers are exploited by their employers.

The most common complaints she receives are for non-payment of overtime work and refusal of permission to take sick days.

In rare cases, however, Salazar says caregivers have faced sexual, verbal, and psychological harassment.

She explains that since domestic workers under the Live-in Caregivers Program must see out 24 months of work within four years—the period was extended by a year in April 2010—to apply for permanent residence, many feel they don’t have enough time to look for another job and have no choice but to put up with exploitation.

In an email to The Link, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that temporary foreign workers, including live-in caregivers, “have access to the same recourse mechanisms as Canadian workers when it comes to labour and employment standards.”

In 2010, the federal government made changes to the Live-in Caregiver Program “aimed at worker protection and facilitating the application for permanent residence.”

These changes included letting caregivers calculate their work experience in terms of actual work hours rather than years, standardizing job contracts, and ensuring that employers pay for the cost of caregiver’s transportation to Canada and for their medical expenses until they become eligible for provincial health coverage.

But members of PINAY say these reforms to the Live-in Caregiver Program don’t go far enough.

For one, they argue that the processing time for new work permits—which they say averages between four and six months—is much too long, and puts caregivers in a precarious position.

The spokesman for CIC says the department has “been closely monitoring processing times and agree[s] that this situation needs to be corrected.”