On December 12, 2009, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism announced changes to the Live-In Caregiver Program that are intended to improve the lives and working conditions of foreign live-in caregivers in Canada. After decades of painstaking advocacy work urging the Government of Canada to take action to address the abuse and exploitation faced by many live-in caregivers, the Philippine Migrants Society of Canada (PMSC) see these recent announcements as a positive step forward.
The elimination of the requirement for live-in caregivers to undergo a second medical examination when applying to become permanent residents or the Juana Tejada law is strongly supported by PMSC.
However, some of the changes that have been announced do not go far to address the difficult and vulnerable situation of live-in caregivers.
Completion of work requirement over four years instead of three
Many caregivers face difficulties meeting the two-year requirement of full-time live-in service over a three-year period if they find it necessary to change employers. When facing an abusive situation, many would hesitate to find another employer due to lengthy processing time of work permits. The response of the government is to extend the qualifying period from three to four years, but they are not addressing the real problem.
Live-in caregivers should not have to live a life of perennial vulnerability in their early years in Canada. Caregiving has always been an occupation in demand in Canada, and many of those who enter the Live-In Caregiver Program are highly skilled. Like federal skilled worker immigrants, live-in caregivers should be able to come in as permanent residents. As permanent residents, they can bring their families with them and thus prevent lengthy family separations. Like other workers in Canada, they can change employers when confronted with abuse and exploitation.
PMSC recognizes that it would take time to modify the points system, so in the interim, we are recommending that an occupation-specific open work permit be issued to live-in caregivers so they have mobility within the caregiving sector and do not have to apply for a new work permit everytime they change employers. This will reduce their vulnerability and provide an incentive for employers to follow wages and working conditions that are stipulated in the employment contract.
Counting overtime hours
Live-in caregivers are now given the choice to count the hours they work instead of days in order to be eligible for permanent residence. The current two-year qualifying period for permanent residence can be reduced to 22 months by factoring in 10 percent of total overtime hours. In reality, however, a caregiver will need to work more than double the regular hours per week to be able to fully take advantage of this provision.
Instead, the Government of Canada should look into making the live-in requirement optional. It is the live-in work arrangement that makes it difficult to draw the line between regular working hours and overtime hours. Many caregivers put in more time than they should because they live in their employer homes and are accessible to them 24 hours a day.
Shift of financial costs to employers
PMSC supports the idea of asking employers to cover: the travel costs of live-in caregivers to come to Canada; medical insurance until caregivers become eligible for OHIP; workplace safety insurance; and recruiting fees owed to third parties. However, the burden remains on the caregiver to report non-compliance of employers. Given their vulnerable status, many would hesitate to come forward for fear of jeopardizing their chances of completing the work eligibility requirement over the prescribed period of time. To enforce these provisions, there needs to be third party monitoring on a regular basis. Recruitment agencies also need to be regulated and monitored to stop and prevent fraudulent practices and the charging of exorbitant fees.