Today, March 21, marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, bringing together migrant justice organizations, activists and communities to unite against racism and call for permanent status, an end to deportations, and decent work and fair wages for migrant workers.
The Caregiver Program
In November, migrant care workers in Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa launched the national “Landed Status Now!” campaign, calling on the federal government to replace the existing Caregiver Program that is set to expire in November 2019.
The campaign demands to improve the conditions of migrant workers through demanding decent work, open permits, and permanent landed status on entry for workers and their families, removal of secondary medical examination requirements and high English language test, and removal of the Canadian post-secondary education requirement.
Because of the tireless organizing of workers and migrant justice organizations, the Immigration Minister announced that a new pilot program will allow migrant Care Workers to come to Canada with their families, and make it easier to change jobs. Additionally, an interim pathway has been announced that will give access to permanent residency to thousands of care workers already working in Canada.
Workers that come to Canada under the existing Caregiver program care for children and adults with high medical needs. They’re predominantly racialized women from the Philippines, Indonesia, China, and the Caribbean. The labour consists of domestic work, elderly care, and child rearing; many care workers are mothers themselves, often leaving behind their families to seek a pathway to citizenship in Canada. The hours are long; the work is highly precarious and undervalued; and their ability to leave abusive employers is limited due to closed work permits.Thousands of care workers come to Canada every year, but despite the permanent need for care work, it is characterized by Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as a temporary labour market need.
Care workers come to Canada with the promise of being able to apply for permanent resident status. The 2014 Caregiver program restricted access to permanent residency by requiring care workers to complete 24 months of service within 48 months, 1 year of Canadian post-secondary education, a high-level English language test, and a second medical examination.
The restrictions of the former pilot program put up barriers for workers who were already in Canada and hoping to apply for permanent residency. The educational requirements are often prohibitive for care workers who are unable to study while working or who can’t afford international student tuition (costing over three times the price of domestic tuition) and language test fees. Delays getting Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIA), which employers must apply for once they have contracted a careworker, can also make it difficult to complete the required months of service. On top of all this, there is a cap of 2,750 permanent resident applications for care workers each year.
Tracking the number of migrant care workers in Canada is incredibly difficult. The number of live-in care workers working with permits was 3,325 in 2017, but documentation of care workers who don’t live in the homes they work at is limited. Many care workers could also become undocumented when their work permits expire before they achieve permanent resident status. If care workers become undocumented, this further deters workers from reporting abuses for fear of being deported.
“These jobs are not temporary jobs,” says Marco Luciano, Director of Migrante Alberta. “They are permanent jobs and domestic workers should be treated with the same respect and dignity as any other professional worker coming into Canada. Care workers are professionals, and they’ve left their families behind to take care of other people’s families.”
Migrante Alberta is one of the migrant organizations involved in the Landed Status Now campaign. The alliance organizes care workers by educating migrant workers and the public about Canada’s role in displacing workers. It has also helped establish the Alberta Care workers Association (ACA), which was founded after care workers expressed a need for an organization that spoke to their specific needs and demands.
Kara Manso, coordinator of the Caregivers Action Centre (CAC), is one of the thousands of migrant workers who came to Canada under the live-in caregiver program. The Caregivers’ Action Centre is a grassroots care worker organization based in Toronto, Ontario.
“The biggest problem for many caregivers is family separation and not having support,” says Manso in an interview with RankandFile.ca. “Achieving landed status upon arrival would mean we would be able to change jobs when we experience abuse, we would not be afraid to say ‘no’ to employers, we could stand up when we’re working too much or something is against the law. We could assert our rights without fear that we’ll lose our job and be deported.”
Under the existing Caregiver program, family separation alienates care workers, and can be emotionally taxing for those caring for children while feeling burdened and guilty for being separated from their families back home. “The waiting is too long,” said Alma, one of the care workers interviewed by the CAC in a report, “Care workers: Voices for Landed Status and Fairness”. “In spite of already working in Canada and also contributing to the economy, being separated with family was difficult and devastating. Even until now that we are together, that separation has put multiple damages in our relationship.”
Obtaining a new work permit and changing employers is incredibly difficult under the existing program. This is why the CAC has called for open work permits and landed status now. Workers are now afforded some labour mobility and could leave employers if they face abuse.
Ester, a care worker based out of Montreal involved in PINAY (Organisation des Femmes Philippines du Québec – Filipino Women’s Organization in Quebec) describes how her expectations were vastly different from the reality of the job. “I have to work in 2 houses everyday – my employer’s house and her parents house,” she said. “Then, they have a private day care in their basement, which I need to clean up every day while looking after the 2 younger kids”.
She is one of the many live-in care workers often not being given time to eat lunch, doing unpaid work, and being threatened by her employer with deportation after being injured. “So with that threat, I made up my mind to quit,” she said. “When I told her I’m not coming back to work for them, the more she threatened me which I just ignored, though that made me stressful too.”
For Ester, landed status upon arrival would be “heaven”. Leaving an abusive employer and finding another job would be easier, and being reunited with her family would also mean that multiple family members would be able to work and contribute to paying the bills.
Migrant Care Workers Organize
There are few labour protections available to migrant care workers. Many care workers experience varying forms of entrapment and are unable to leave their jobs because of the precarious conditions under which they work. But with the launch of the Migrant Rights Network, a coalition of migrant organizations are combating racism through lobbying, popular education, and raising migrant issues during the federal election.
Because of the decades of organizing for permanent status upon arrival, the new pilot program will grant sector-specific work permits, making it easier for care workers to leave bad employers. While the momentum of the Landed Status Now campaign has won major gains for migrant workers, the fight is not over. The Interim Program raises many questions, and still excludes many workers from being able to gain permanent residency. While the Caregiver pilot project changes are a step in the right direction, migrant justice organizations are calling for a Federal Care Workers Program that recognizes that care work is not temporary.
In addition to it being a basic right in itself, when migrant workers get access to labour mobility and protections, including health and safety protections, the labour movement as a whole is made stronger. Ensuring permanent residency for all migrants, and bringing in migrant workers under provincial and federal employment standards is the way to lift workplace standards for all workers.
“We’re coordinating actions and we’re connecting with several unions, and asking unions to support us,” says Manso. “When migrant workers can raise the floor, other workers benefit from what migrant workers are pushing for.”