Marginalizing, Criminalizing, and Exploiting The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) Workers

By Faruk Arslan

The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) provides professional employment opportunities for individuals who want to take care of children, elders and disabled people (Sedef Arat 2001: 1). Every year, thousands of Live-in caregivers, mostly women caregivers, have come into Canada and left behind their homes, families and sometimes children, where they then enter a system of temporary and exploitative work and are treated as disposable commodities because of a Canadian racist exclusionary policy. The Live-in Caregiver Program has been serving as an immigration policy for marginalizing, criminalizing, and exploiting migrant workers since the 1960s. The Canadian government still has a gate-keeping structure to militarize its borders and to implement programs that deny migrants the right to live permanently in residence, and this is achieved by the use of programs that promise to keep migrants permanently temporary. There is still incompetent, bias behaviour and abuse in the Canadian immigration and refugee settlement system services, and domestic workers’ laws and regulations are not based on needs, but on status.

There is little or no monitoring or enforcement of employment conditions, and these workers “fall through the cracks between the federal government, which runs the program, and the provinces, which enforce labour law” (Brazao, 2008). Many researches have before been done about these vulnerable people’s rights, where they are brought into Canada, live in terrible and troubled conditions and are being exploited. One of them, Makeda Silvera (1981), who had conducted research in the early 1980s had found that employers were being paid under the minimum wage and also weren’t paid the over time wage (Makeda, 1981). Sedef Arat Koc (2001) had found that most domestic worker women didn’t break the silence of what they’ve been through in order to bring their families to Canada, though many women have been sexually assaulted by employers (Arat Koc, 2001), and similarly, Lisa Marie Jakubowski (2002) had found discrimination within legalization and segregation processes, as well as gender inequality (Jakubowski, 2002). The Live-in Caregiver Program was produced because of common structural economic and political conditions, and it is legitimized by policies that promote inequality through systemic exploitation, sexual harassment, and racialization historically, economically and politically.

What is the root of domestics and social exclusion within the history of Canada, and why has the LCP created systematic racist and discriminatory policies for labour exploitation within the Canadian immigration system? How have neo-liberal policies shifted and affected domestics programs and the immigration system in the questioning of transnational communities? Why and how is Canada still staying as a democratic, lawful and humanist country if yet, Canada continues to exploit domestic workers, especially Filipino women, as it expands its temporary foreign worker policies modeled after the LCP and the continuation and expansion of the modern-day slavery program in Canada? Why do domestic worker regulations still remain unregulated, and why are nannies unprotected from phony recruitment agencies? Why is the LCP socially, economically and politically constructed on the basis of culture, linguistics and racializing gender? Who obtains benefits from marginalized, isolated, and segregated domestics with low-income status and is kept undocumented and discriminated based on class, race and citizenship? I will try to briefly answer, in this paper, the questions outlined here and state how globalization is changing and challenging national policies and attitudes.

Historically, domestic workers have been seen, by Canadians in the 18th and 19th century, as a solution for the demands of household work and child care, and these domestic workers are called servants and are widely employed in Canada, being brought from among the poor and white population in feudal Europe before the process of the privatization of family began. These servants were seen as parts of the family members in patriarchal family structures and as bonded and trusted persons in comfortable environments, but for the first time, the feminization of occupation was categorized (Fairchilds, 1984: 23-4). Women had no right of property or the right to vote or be voted, and so most domestics were females who struggled with gender inequality and the lower class disadvantage and lived in powerless situations. The industrialization and urbanization periods that had occurred between the pre-1920s and after the baby boom of the post-1960s, were very significant to bring domestics into Canada, in which was connected with the history of racial and ethic relations and the politics of immigration. Domestic workers had different relationships with their families in wage labour eras, compared with servants who had worked for families within the family economy, which provided an indenturing and bonding relationship between the servant and the family before industrialization.

Since the late 1950s, women have enjoyed independent work and private life when having left domestic, unpaid work; however, the vast majority of Canadian-born white women were unwilling to enter domestic work and do childcare, as it had become an undesirable job. The employment involvement of women in labour force was increased to 46.9 percent by 2006, and the employment rate with children under 16 rose from 39 percent in 1974 to 72.5 percent in 2004 (Statistics Canada 2007). Since the 1960s, the Department of Immigration has been given no choice to develop a domestic worker program to bring cheap labour to Canada and keep foreign workers within the domestic work force. Between 1973 and 1981, Canada had recruited foreign domestic workers from other countries with only one year of temporary visas, and had given specific types of work to specific employers as guest workers instead of landed immigrants, having promised to some for the landed/permanent status; however, a majority of such workers (96 percent) were aligned with the live-in status and were predominantly women in colour, and many visible minorities of women had the lack of basic and political rights in Third World countries (The Task Force in Immigration Practices and Procedures 1981; 53).

Domestic workers have become strangers since then, and when aligned with new environments, they were “being in family, but not of it” (Leslie 1974: 87). This employment visa system didn’t care about how bad living and working conditions were for the domestics. Domestics were unable to leave their jobs without losing their rights. They were given two weeks of time to find a new employer, even though individual immigration officers could decide, by discovering the working conditions of the domestics’ previous employers by asking them with the use of a letter, if the worker could switch with another employer (The Task Force in Immigration Practices and Procedures 1981; 26). The increasing numbers of domestics brought to Canada with employment visas rose from 1,800 in 1973 to more than 16,000 in 1982 (Silvera 1983; 15). Makeda Silvera (1983) had conducted research and found that domestics were earning only 3.5 dollars per hour in the early 1980s, and regular hours were 44 hours/week and no overtime work was paid by their employers.

Temporary domestics weren’t able to expect services while they were required to pay the Canadian Pension Plan and Unemployment Insurance premium and income taxes, and even so they could not claim any benefits, whereas Revenue Canada had collected from the CPP and UIC more than 11 million dollars between the years of 1973 and 1979 (The Task Force in Immigration Practices and Procedures 1981; 70). The Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM) program came into effect in 1981 and provided the opportunity for domestic workers to apply for the landed immigrant status after doing two years of domestic service without leaving the country, and yet there were still extra restrictions that put the live-in arrangement as a mandatory condition, such as being proficient in either English or French and having specific job skills (Jakubowski 2002: 62). Jakubowski (2002) explains how the FDM was replaced with the Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP) in 1992 that has made it somewhat easier for domestics to become permanent residents because it was advocated by activists, researchers, women organizations and domestic workers associations and was improved from the past programs that had been in its place, in which were Domestic Schemes and The Temporary Authorization Program.

The LCP still has a number of conditions, such as having a Grade 12 education, being able to speak English or French and performing in live-in service, plus proof of six months of full time training in areas such as early child education, geriatric care and pediatric nursing. Within their first three years of residence in Canada, domestics are eligible to apply for the landed immigrant status provided that they have completed two years of domestic work (Jakubowski 2002; 63). These criteria were not fit in many countries’ schooling and training systems, where most Third World Country citizens cannot be qualified for such reasons as the non-existence of a 12th grade education in high school in most countries. After the completion of many advocacies, the government revised the requirements of the high school diploma, and the minimum of work experience in care giving was recognized as equivalent to six months of formal training. The release letter from previous employers had gotten the requirement to be removed when domestics had claimed to change their employers, though the domestics still had to get a record of their employment showing how long they were working and however much they earned (CEIC 1992). These requirements haven’t been changed since the economic restructuring of neo-liberalism that has supported a new form of employment exploitation in the unregulated free market economy in Canada since the last two decades.

Economically, government policies have been structured based on the labour market’s needs, and this is why policies have restricted the gain of full status to domestics and why lawmakers have an unwillingness to remove unfavorable abusive working conditions. For many years, Ontario’s lack of regulation over the nanny recruiters’ contract and the unregulated sector has failed to protect nannies from rogue unscrupulous, phony and unregulated recruitment agencies, which gain benefits from abusive, systematic, racist and discriminatory policies. Under the depression of social exclusion, many Filipino and Caribbean women have gained double consequences in transnationalism, and their skills de-professionalized in the Diaspora culture. Even after receiving the immigrant status, it is difficult for them to move on to other professions and so they must continue to do nanny slavery. Under the stress of low-earning jobs, placement fees and abused financial charges, most of these women have suffered in debt, bankruptcy, or have ended up in a suicidal condition. Nannies seem to be modern-day slaves who work within long working hours and care after everything in the home based on the call service where their employers can access them 24/7; however, they cannot access health insurance benefits or choose to be unemployed and take the advantage of retirement deductions (Silvera 1981: 85).

They work as indentured servants, often doing work that is not related with care giving, and are underpaid and overworked “morning, noon and night” as cleaners, maids and handywomen (Ferguson 2009). Furthermore, domestic workers are unable to unionize to protect their rights and bargain for their wage collectively. The Toronto Star raised this issue on the media in 2008 through a series of reports, and after a year the government had introduced the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act in October, 2009. The new bill included provisions to extend the protection of temporary foreign workers if the government would deem it that necessary.  This bill also made it illegal for nanny recruitment agencies and people who hire nannies to take their documents, such as passports or work permits. Nanny recruiters would face a maximum fine of $50,000 and be placed in jail for up to a year if they were to get caught when “directly or indirectly” charging foreign caregivers a fee to work in Ontario under legislation. The jail term is the toughest penalty in Canada in such cases (Ferguson, 2009). After years of tireless organizing, many other groups and allies across the country won the fight, and since December 9, 2009, Immigration Canada extended the number of years within which live-in caregivers could apply for permanent status and removed the requirement of a second medical test. The changes which were announced on December 12, 2009, included the extension of the period of the ability to complete the Live-in requirement from three years to four years; the ability to apply for permanent residency after fulfilling 3,900 hours of work; the elimination of the second medical examination when applying for permanent residency; that employers should cover the Live-in Caregiver’s travel and medical costs and provide signed contracts that would clearly outline their working hours, overtime work, sick leave and vacation; and that live-in caregivers were to be given the ability to obtain emergency work permits within three weeks if they were abused (Canada Gazette 2009). These changes were only band-aid solutions and still tie peoples’ immigration status with their employers, yet policies still continue to exploit LCP women and put them in a vulnerable position based on their status, which severely limits the ability of such migrants on work programs to gain full status.

Politically, because of a long history of the legalization of racism and the segregation process (Jakubowski, 2002: 61), an immigrant or domestic worker is assumed to be a person in color, and the process of criminalization is very dense. The ideology of racism grows out from colonization. This process has been socially, internationally, and culturally constructed, even when its exploited migrants have had the capability of committing a human strike. Slavery-based ideology has encouraged the control and maintenance of society. Moreover, living with the employer requirement is unnecessary, though it is exploiting caregivers in many ways, such as while it provides the opportunity for abuse and assault for them, they are also not paid overtime for their work. This caregiver program comes into play with no strict regulations and with cruel decisions, such as the living arrangement, where there are employer-caused sexual assaults. Numerous rapes and harassment incidents have occurred, but the victims of such incidents were silenced if they wanted to bring their family members after two years of slavery employment. Undocumented nannies have ended up in the service sector, with work in factories, exotic clubs and escort services. The bachelor society has made the people who leave behind their offspring and relatives to work as slaves within the stranger home (Sedef Arat 2001: 25). Sedef Arat (2001) had made community-based agency research through interviews, and a number of issues surrounding domestics that she mentions have similar barriers, such as cultural, linguistic and racial ones, and she had also observed several global characteristics of the LCP, including the invisibility, isolation and low status of domestics which exist because of the nature of private works that have led to loneliness and may vary significantly based on class, race and citizenship (Sedef Arat 2001: 10).

The LCP is a racist and anti-woman program by which mostly Filipino women are brought into Canada to do childcare or elder care and domestic work in the homes of middle and upper-class Canadians. Ninety-five percent of all those who enter through the LCP are from the Philippines, and many women face exploitation and all forms of abuse under the LCP, such as the long-term negative impacts that are, on such women, that when many children are reunited with their mothers after five or more years of separation, they see them as strangers (Sedef Arat 2001: 21). This experience of separation, migration, and family re-unification is very traumatic for the Filipino Diaspora for both mothers and their children. The worsening trauma is hard to integrate onto both the country of origin and the Diaspora of the country because of socio-economic and cultural marginalization of the belonging community. Filipino women work while enduring ‘modern-day slavery’ where their freedom disappears and a long-term impact is placed on their children because of the program and the long distance between mother and child. The racist, anti-woman Live-in Caregiver Program destroys family trusts, bonds and intimacy relationships, whereas feminists have failed to protect LCP women in Canada.

In conclusion, colonialism, capitalism, imperialism and globalization have a high effect on the LCP. The Canadian system is not equally treating LCP domestic workers and instead favors the gate-keeping structure. Neo-liberal policies and the global economy have led to the increase in migration and the decrease of the working condition standard. Temporary status, the employer-specific contract and the living arrangement are still setting the context for the exploitative and oppressive conditions for domestics. The Canadian government continues to dehumanize workers because of their status and maintains the modern-day slavery of women. The LCP’s practice is still incompetent, produces bias behaviour and abuses women in the Canadian immigration system, and it presents that its laws, regulations and practices are not fit in with such a democratic country as Canada. There is a strict distinction between real rights and cosmetic rights.  Foreign nannies reduce labor costs in the market and save the government from making major investments on the daycare and childcare system. The current LCP supports sexism and the exploitation of women, which is Canada’s unseen and dark, racist and discriminatory side. Even though domestic service is paid, as is housework, it is invisible, economical and ideological and grants the LCP more social exclusion. This is how society deals with immigrants, as well as how the LCP deals with them, just as domestics struggle with segregation, marginalization and criminalization. A majority of immigrants and domestic workers fall as the victims of the present system and racial stigma that say they are disqualified and deskilled, causing such people to become stereotyped on the basis of colour, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.  Every human being should have rights to move and be given opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity and culture, etc. Recruiter agencies still preferred to hire women and not men, and this shows that the LCP has a gender policy that contains inequalities. The bachelor female society has taken the generations of the LCP’s family lives to have been traumatized by this program that survives within the Canadian racist structure, ironically. This struggle will never stop until racism, sexism and discrimination are removed from Canadian laws and policies, and otherwise, the LCP will stay ashamed by all Canadians.Canadian domestic worker programs have different historical, social, cultural and global economical contexts than western countries. The study of transnational political, social and cultural practices is very important for law makers and scholars who need to research more on how globalization and neo-liberalism will place an affect on the LCP regarding its issues of classifying people by their race, ethnicity, citizenship, transnationalism and so forth, especially with its issue of violating human rights in the future.


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