[first pubilshed in a cook ‘zine “from farm to fork” by le frigo vert collective circa 2009 http://www.lefrigovert.com/ More recent info on canadian migrant workers can be found here http://interparesfundraising.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/international-migrants-day/#%5D
Part nanny, personal care attendant, health care worker, maid and cook, we can’t forget aboutdomestic workers when we talk about food and health. The majority of domestic workers arewomen, from the Philippines, but also from Caribbean countries who enter Canada through theLive-in Caregivers Program. And though they work tirelessly to feed and care for their employers,they often have little access to food or care themselves.
Coming to Canada because of conditions ofpoverty in their homeland, created by programsof global capitalism, women often leave behindtheir own families to come and take care ofsomeone else’s here in Canada, all for the hopesof being able to send home money, andpotentially, eventually being able to move herewith their families.
One of the biggest difficulties for Filipinaworkers entering Canada through the LCP isthat of immediate forced integration.“With children,” says Evelyn Calugay, a memberof Pinay, a Montreal-based Filipino women’sorganization that focuses particularly onworking to organize and empower Filipinodomestic workers, “ it’s recognized thatintegration should be done gradually rather thanabruptly, but workers are expected to integrateimmediately. It has a huge effect on yourphysiological system to be immediately forcedto eat an entirely different diet.”
Generally, when they do shopping for theiremployers, they shop in places that don’t carrythe type of food they are used to, so they areonly able to access their own food on their dayoff, and some aren’t even allowed to bring theirown food back if, for example, doing so wouldviolate a dietary mandate (such as kosher law).Room and board is supposed to be part of thedeal for domestic workers, but many are deniedaccess to their employers food.
“Employers will keep track,” says Calugay, “They will look in the fridge and ask about every morsel that is missing”. Calugay says some members of PINAY admit that they live on bread and butter, while others admit to keeping
food under their bed.
But often, food is the least of their worries.The wages are low and although on paper, thesewomen are entitled to days off and privaterooms, in practice, they rarely have privacy andare often on call 24-7. They receive no benefitsand in Quebec, are not even covered by CSST(Quebec’s workers comp), which means thatthough they take care of other people’s health,they have no resources to take care of theirown. Indeed, many who become injured, ill orpregnant while in the LCP find themselves firedfrom their jobs thereby losing their workpermits and being at risk of deportation.When asked to describe the treatment oflive-in caregivers over all, Evelyn said they aretreated as “disposable objects; not human
“We are hailed as ‘modern-day heroes,’ butin fact, we are ‘modern-day slaves’,” said YolynValenzuela, of Siklab, a Filipino migrant workersgroup, in a recent speech about the LCPPeople in the LCP program can, after working24/36 months, apply for landed immigrantstatus, but the criteria are so restrictive andthe conditions so harsh few make it that far.A main barrier to this being that as soon as adomestic worker changes employment forwhatever reason, (be she fired, fall ill or leave,even if she leaves an abusive or dangerousenvironment) she must apply for a new workpermit. Though permits can be issued withinweeks, it often takes upwards of 6 months, and,in some cases, over a year.In the meantime, mostwomen find work, but without a valid workpermit, they not only have no legal rights butbecause these jobs are not documented, theirtime is not counted towards requirements ofthe program. Simple math shows that if the bureaucratic wheels turn too slowly, the workerwill never make the 24/36 month requirement,and will be deported..
Calugay describes this as “…a cycle [predicatedon] survival of the fittest”
Unbelievably, these conditions are better thanthey were. In the past, workers would have toreapply for permits periodically even if theyremained with the same employer. A long foughtcampaign demanding that LCP workers begranted a work permit for the full 3 years andnot be tied to a specific employer had a partialvictory: 3 year permits are now issued. The factthat the permits remain tied to a particularemployer, however, renders this victorysomewhat hollow in that most workers changeemployers throughout this 3 year period andthen are stuck with the problem of not beingable to document work until their newpaperwork (permit) has come through.LCP workers in Quebec won a moresubstantial victory through the Quebec HumanRights Commission recently. Currently,domestic workers in Quebec are not coveredby CSST (Worker’s Compensation in Quebec).A report done by McGill professor and co-founder of the Montreal Immigrant WorkersCentre, Jill Hanley, found that 30% of domesticworkers experience a job-related injury. In November of 2008, the Quebec Human RightsCommission ruled that this exclusion wasdiscriminatory on the basis of gender, ethnicityand social status. Of course, the ruling is onlythe first step and to date it is unknown howthe CSST will interpret and manifest this newstandard. [having left the jurisdiction shortly after writing this, i have no idea how this has affected the terrain]
[another update: Montreal Immigrant Worker’s Centre http://iwc-cti.ca/ launched an association of temp agency workers in order to fight and organize for themselves for better work conditions and dignity…and struggle for basic things that we all take advantage of… such as minimum wage, holiday pay, dignity and respect, and also against their own injust situations of fighting for status and against deportations..The struggle continues”
Amanda Dorter is a frigo collective member
For more info or to stand in solidarity with workers in the Livein Caregivers Program
check out the Pinay website at http://pinayquebec.blogspot.com/