Pinay Caregiver in Canada Says Gov’t Promises For Foreign Workers Not Enough

As the Canadian parliament is mulling to changing how temporary foreign workers are treated, live-in caregivers are speaking out about what they call injustices within the federal programs.

One of them is Kristina Torres, 28, who came to Canada from the Philippines under a federal live-in caregiver program that she said has left her “disposable” and less than a human, in reference to the exploitation in the program.

The program allows Canadian families to hire someone from another country to live with them and provide care for children, seniors and people with disabilities and medical needs. After two years in the program, the caregiver could then apply to become a permanent resident. A revision in the program was made in 2014 so new applicants were no longer required to live with their employers. But those already employed through the live-in program could continue with the same arrangement.

Torres claims those who had been in the previous version of the program could not apply for the so-called “live-out” jobs without going through what she described as a “lengthy” re-application process.

Federal programs that involve the employment of foreign workers, albeit temporary, has been a source of embarrassment for the Canadian government which has been criticized for giving Canadian jobs to foreign nationals, and leaving those foreign nationals in precarious work situations.

After controversies such as fast-food restaurants favouring temporary foreign workers over local employees erupted, reforms were instituted.

Many workers in the programs, such as Torres, are tied to the employer who brought them over — if they quit or are let go, they lose their living place and can’t accept a job elsewhere without jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

“If we don’t have an employer, we don’t have a home,” Torres said, and added that workers’ hands are tied when employers tell them to work overtime without pay and perform tasks that are outside of their job description. They face risk of losing their job once they decline orders.

In 2014, she had been working for someone for a while, but she said she was let go a short time after she declined to help her employer renovate — something that was completely outside of her job description. She said she thinks her refusal is what triggered her termination.

Torres had to apply for a new work permit, and said she was rejected several times before finally being accepted.

“You just collapse from all those expectations that you have, hoping that you’ll have a good life in Canada,” she said. “And then you’re treated as less than a human being.”

Torres is part of an advocacy organization called the Caregivers Action Centre, which is calling for temporary workers and their families to be given permanent resident status upon their arrival in Canada. She believes that this is the best way to get rid of employer attitudes that foreign caregivers are disposable workers.

“Any two-step process or path to permanent residency is really a path to exploitation. It’s a minefield: we need permanent status on arrival,” she said.