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Canada’s modern-day slaves

Filipina domestic workers suffer economic violence in Canada with low wages and long working hours.
Jane Macaraeg, a quiet former honour student in her late 20s, was raised by maids in the Philippines and never thought she would tend to children herself one day.

She tore her wrist tendons when she pulled out a child from behind a deep freezer while on contract as a nanny for a BC household. Instead of being thanked for saving the child from injury while hurting herself, her employer reprimanded her.
"She told me I should've just left him there," Macaraeg said. "I thought: 'If he electrocuted himself, she would have blamed me even more'."

Macaraeg is one of thousands of nannies who have to jump through hoops before gaining a shot at the ultimate prize—a new life in Canada.

She was recruited though the Live-in Caregiver Program, a stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) designed to fill labour shortages in Canada. A recently released report by labour lawyer Fay Faraday in Ontario revealed that the legal structure of the TFWP sets up migrant workers for abuse.

Faraday recognizes that only live-in caregivers in the low-skilled category of the TFWP have access to permanent residency in Canada, a perk that makes it seem like they’re better off.

But caregivers are also prone to abuse just like all other migrant workers, she argues, as they are also tied to their employer and thus cannot change jobs if mistreated.

A report by the Toronto Star noted that several caregivers complained of “being forced to work 12 to 15 hour days without overtime, days off or even minimum wage”.

Even if they do get minimum wage, they answer to their employers’ beck and call 24 hours a day, as they are forced to live with them. They are only paid for eight hours worth of work. Considering the only recently-augmented minimum wage of BC at $10.25, that amounts to $4.64 per hour including taxes and rest time. 

Ai Li Lim, who represents nannies in legal battles with the West Coast Domestic Workers Association, said, most caregivers and employers do not keep track of the overtime. Still, the live-in requirement creates a power relationship that’s hard to avoid. “Would a caregiver be able to say that she is not going to pick up the crying baby at 3 a.m. in the morning because it is personal time?”

The caregivers are also forced to pay for their own boarding with their meagre salaries. In BC, employers are allowed to charge up to $325 for the room.
In other provinces, they are better off. In Quebec, it's free. In Ontario, the pay deduction for rent cannot exceed $85.25, according to Farraday’s report.

For employers, the Live-in Caregiver Program is much more affordable than a daycare program—even middle-class families can benefit from it. A live-in nanny costs around $1200 to $1600 per month while daycare in BC can cost up to $1500.

Farraday’s 120-page paper, entitled “Made In Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers’ Insecurity”, looked particularly at low-skilled workers’ conditions. She interviewed about a hundred migrant workers from four streams: the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, the Live-in Caregiver Program and two categories of the Pilot Project for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training, through which migrant workers become “permanently temporary”, Farraday said.

Live-in caregivers at risk

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