By Glecy Duran and Hetty Alcuitas
While Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called December 12 a “happy day” when he announced so-called “improvements” to Canada’s flawed Live-in Caregiver Program, it was far from a happy day for Filipino live-in caregivers and their advocates. Filipino women make up over 90 percent of those entering Canada under the LCP.
Progressive organizations of Filipino women, workers, and youth maintain that the changes made to the LCP are merely cosmetic and represent yet another tactic to justify the continuation and expansion of modern-day slavery programs, like the LCP, in Canada. The National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada, SIKLAB-Canada, Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance, and the Filipino Nurses Support Group criticize these changes as an attempt to make the racist and antiwoman LCP more palatable to Canadians in order to cover-up the systemic weaknesses inherent in immigration policies and to defend the ongoing overhaul of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations include the extension of the period of the live-in requirement from three to four years; the option of calculating the required two years of live-in work as months or hours, with the latter option including the ability to claim 390 hours of overtime work but which must be completed in no less than 22 months; and the elimination of the second medical examination when applying for permanent residency. Other minor changes were announced to the administrative side of the program.
Far from providing a genuine solution to improve the situation of live-in caregivers and to respect their human rights, these proposed changes will in reality cause more hardship and suffering for the women and will perpetuate violence against women.
Providing the option of calculating the length of live-in caregiving work by hours does not make much of a difference. If no overtime is worked, 3,900 hours equates to 24 months of work on a standard work week. If overtime is included, there is only a reduction of two months in the amount of live-in work required. And that reduction is borne on the backs of these women, who must work the equivalent of 50 to 60 days of overtime, be paid for that overtime work, and have proof of that overtime work, in order to apply to get their permanent residency two months earlier than if choosing the option of calculation by months.
Extending the three-year deadline for completing the work requirement to four years lengthens the exploitation of live-in caregivers and lengthens the separation from their families.
The elimination of the second medical examination when applying for permanent residency may in practice exclude live-in caregiver applicants in the Philippines who will now be subject to more extensive medical exams before qualifying to come to Canada. As well, the waiver of the second medical examination does not apply to live-in caregivers already in Canada.
The proposed changes do not remove the fundamental pillars of the LCP (the mandatory period of live-in work within a certain period of entry into Canada; the mandatory live-in requirement; temporary immigration status; and the employer-specific work permit) which set the conditions for abuse and exploitation. The changes do not also address the backlog and long delays women continue to face in awaiting the approval of their application for permanent residency, despite Minister Kenney’s claim that these delays have been reduced.
The proposed changes are an insult to all Canadians, because by maintaining the LCP the proposed changes expose the government’s failure to provide much needed social services for its citizens, such as universal childcare and eldercare programs. The LCP is the government’s de facto national childcare program. It is also being used to pave the way for the increasing privatization of healthcare, as many live-in caregivers are nurses from the Philippines taking care of the sick and elderly in private homes.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada must stop playing games with the lives of thousands of Filipino live-in caregivers. The illusory nature of the proposed changes exposes the government’s lack of political will to seriously address the long-standing demands of live-in caregivers and their advocates to abolish the mandatory live-in requirement, to grant them permanent residency upon arrival, and the accreditation of their professional backgrounds. By ignoring the demands of live-in caregivers, it is clear that Canada treats the LCP as an employer-driven program and, therefore, will always propose changes that serve the interest of the employers, agencies, and others who profit from the LCP.
Although many see this program as a way for Filipinos to enter Canada, the realities of the harsh negative short-term and long-term impacts of the LCP on Filipino women and their families far outweigh the benefits of citizenship. Offering the prize of citizenship is a classic tactic, as Canada dangles a “carrot on a stick” in order to attract and retain live-in caregivers to fulfill the dirtiest, most difficult, and dangerous jobs that no other Canadians will take.
For over 20 years now, Filipino-Canadians have been steadfast in calling for the scrapping of the LCP. A program that is inherently flawed and violent cannot and should not be reformed. As workers, we should not allow Minister Kenney to pit us against each other. Filipino women, workers, and youth will remain vigilant in their struggle to end the exploitation of and systemic violence experienced by these live-in caregivers as women and as workers. We call on the support of other progressive Canadians to support our calls for a just and progressive immigration, child-care, and health-care system.
Glecy Duran is vice chair of SIKLAB-Canada.
Hetty Alcuitas is a spokesperson for the Philippine Women Centre of B.C.