The long-standing stereotype of the Filipino nanny is shockingly difficult to dispel. The Made in Canada report catalogues that 95% of participants of Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) are women; and of these the Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative (TIEDI) reports that 90% were born in the Philippines. While over 88% of participants in the LCP successfully gain permanent resident status in Canada, it is troubling to find that opportunities for these women to improve their long-term economic outcomes are systematically kept out of reach. If live-in caregivers expect to achieve a higher standard of living in the long run through the LCP, their aspirations are usually stifled the day they arrive in Canada.
The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) is administered under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and is supported by transnational agreements. It is a National Occupation Classification Level C (Low-Skilled) Program that recruits foreign temporary workers to fill the shortage of inexpensive, round-the-clock care for children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly in private homes. The LCP program is the only route that can lead TFWs towards citizenship; live-in caregivers are eligible to apply for permanent resident status after completing 3,900 hours of work for one employer within four years of arriving in Canada.
Temporary Foreign Workers do not enjoy the same rights and freedoms as permanent residents or Canadian citizens, and as a consequence are vulnerable to abuse. The Law Commission of Ontario reports that fear of repatriation can put workers in a vulnerable position when faced against employer abuse, especially because live-in caregivers are banned from working for more than one employer. Working conditions are determined by a patchwork of provincial employment standards that generally do not oblige employers to compensate live-in caregivers for more than minimum wage. In addition, there is no nation-wide institution for proactive enforcement to ensure both employers and live-in caregivers fulfill contractual obligations. Second-class treatment of foreign-born live-in caregivers does not further the goal of nation building, especially since over 88% of live-in caregivers apply and gain for permanent resident status upon completing the work obligation.
The live-in requirement is an obvious violation of mobility rights, and has negative consequences on a live-in caregiver’s opportunity to develop their social and human capital. Although most employment standards stipulate maximum work weeks of 40-48 hours, the reality of being an isolated live-in caregiver is that employer requests can be answered to at any hour. Live-in caregivers do not have the right to access post-secondary education, making any previous skilled training (over 63% of live-in caregivers have a bachelor’s degree at time of arrival) obsolete as time goes on. According to Naomi Alboim, having a supportive social network and opportunities for ensuring human capital is transferrable to Canada are vital factors that determine the long-term economic outcomes of immigrants, meaning live-in caregivers clearly miss out.
High financial costs and minimum wage pay prevent live-in caregivers from being able to support their families to enter Canada, and media reports find that families are often separated for three to seven years. Even after being reunited with family in Canada, economic outcomes for children still appear grim. Interviews with high school teachers showed that the majority of children of Filipino temporary workers do not perform well academically. The Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative (TIEDI) has reported that the proportion of child dependents arriving under the LCP increased from 37% in 2000 to 50% in 2009, which could indicate that the negative long-term consequences of fractured familial relationships is a growing problem.
Future demand for live-in caregivers and alternative at-home care for the elderly will only grow as the Canadian population ages and dual-income earning families remain the norm. Worker de-skilling will only emphasize the systematic barriers that prevent live-in caregivers from contributing to projected labour shortages in other skilled sectors such as the Canadian healthcare sector.
In Canada, private care outside the home is less convenient than hiring a live-in caregiver under the LCP, and only marginally cheaper. Canadian parents can pay a private daycare $700 to $1000 per month per child. By comparison, depending on the province, the cost of one live-in caregiver under the LCP is $1,300 to $1,800 per month.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) intends on expanding the program rapidly. In October 2013, the CIC announced that it will admit 17,500 permanent residents through the LCP in 2014 – almost double the number in 2012. This represents the highest number of LCP admissions in a single year since the program began in 1993, and eliminates the backlog recorded. Remittances contribute to 11% of the Philippines’ GDP.
The Caregivers Action Centre, Workers’ Action Centre, INTERCEDE, and regional legal services across the country such as West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association and Parkdale Community Legal Services advocate fundamental changes to the temporary foreign worker program. They support permanent resident status for live-in caregivers, elimination of employer-specific work permits, equal legal protection and rights, equal access to social and academic programs and resources, and a just appeals process for repatriations. Until these reforms take place these organizations support increased protection for live-in caregivers and proactive enforcement of provincial employment standards regulations.
There is a more fundamental problem that enables the exploitative practices of the LCP: Canadians simply don’t value carework enough. For Canadian-born women to further their own economic ambitions, why do they need to resort to stifling the economic opportunities of a foreign woman? Until we are prepared to address the true costs of providing adequate care for the children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, the problematic LCP will remain.
Daphne Cheung is a 2015 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance, and holds an Honours Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. She is excited to pursue a variety of policy interests, including social, education, economic, and environmental policy.