Petronila Cleto – BASICS #17 (Jan/Feb 2010)
Are the Canadian political and legal systems truly democratic enough to create appropriate changes to the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), so that rights and welfare issues of the marginalized community of Filipino domestic workers can be justly resolved?
Within the past decade before December 2009, the answer has been a very dismal “no”. In Toronto, from 2001 to 2003, three caregivers were involved in court cases – two of them accused in criminal cases for allegedly sexually assaulting children in their care. They, and many others, have struggled to regain self-respect and reclaim hopes of justice and equality. They represent the precarious lives of caregivers on the fringes of society, although they work in its very heart – inside homes.
Why is such a situation maintained?
Scholarly studies and research reports show that changes in Canadian government policy around foreign domestic work have strongly served the government’s prevailing trade and investment interests in the source countries for domestic workers.
1890-1920s: Closely aligned to Great Britain’s global interests, Canada opened its doors to British domestic women workers, thus absorbing Britain’s problematic surplus of women’s labour.
1911: Canada allowed women from Jamaica and Barbados to enter, thus ensuring its preferential trade and investment position in the British Caribbean.
1947: After the calculation of economic benefits from their domestic work, Canada accepted women immigrants from Displaced Persons camps in Europe.
Domestic workers previously entered Canada as landed immigrants. By the 1970s, “indentured” (live-in) domestic labour was already in place as a profitable economic arrangement. Also, by creating the point system for immigrants, the government could rule out the entry of immigrants unable to measure up to “education” and “skill”. It created a new program for non-immigrant “migrant workers” – where the points were lowered, drawing in women from “developing countries”. This effectively dropped domestic workers to a very low status and deprived them of several labour rights.
At the very same time in the 1970s, the Philippine government was in an economic crisis, riddled with unemployment and a severe lack of jobs. Aside from taking IMF-World Bank loans, it declared a “temporary policy” of sending “migrant workers” to foreign countries. It began sending women to Canada as workers under the Foreign Domestic Program. As IMF/World Bank-imposed deregulation, privatization and liberalization resulted in ever-increasing economic chaos, the ailing economy had to be buoyed up by migrant work. Meanwhile, large foreign corporations, including Canadian mining companies, have entered the country to build up fully repatriatable profit based on cheap labour and natural resources. Thus, the export of labour was established as government’s Labour Export Policy, and became the country’s top industry.
Organized protest and community action, led by the highly-aware Filipino community in Ontario and other parts of Canada, have created continued pressure for change in the LCP for the past two decades. Progressive organizations have time and again consulted with caregivers, and recently sent recommendations to politicians and to Parliament, including a specific recommendation to eliminate the requirement for a second medical exam in a caregiver’s application for permanent residency (campaigned for by caregiver Juana Tejada, then dying of cancer). On December 10, 2009, the Filipino community celebrated the passage of the Juana Tejada Law, as well as that of other new regulations in the LCP – notably, the extension of the allowable period in which to complete the 2-year live-in requirement and successfully apply for permanent residency, which was changed to 4 years.
LCP workers may be special because they may become permanent residents, but they are, like many from developing countries, Temporary and Low-Skilled Foreign Workers. For all, more challenges lie ahead. The hiring trend in Ontario today is bleak, as more Filipino migrant workers are hired as contract workers in construction companies or on farms. In Alberta, they have contracts in restaurant service. New laws are forbidding. For one, a migrant worker can work on contracts for only 4 years, after which they have to be absent from Canada for 6 years, before they can return to work for another 4 years. If a worker’s contract is prematurely terminated, that puts the worker back into a precarious life.
With these new laws and regulations and potentially problematic situations, migrant workers will once more put Canadian democracy to the test. Once more, they will also test the strength of traps.
A nagging question: If the labour of Filipino domestic workers has been found necessary and highly valuable in Canadian society, and given their proven potential to contribute to higher levels in society because of excellent educational profiles, why is it still impossible for them to enter Canada as permanent residents? Do they, in whom Canada’s parents entrust the care of their children, not deserve the status and concomitant rights of immigrants?