Canadian Labour Congress Statement in Response to Open Work Permits for Caregivers

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) supports the December 15, 2011 announcement by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to finally allow Live-In Caregivers to benefit from open work permits after completing nearly 4000 hours of work.

This change is long overdue for the predominantly female workers who had no choice but to remain tied to an employer who can easily violate labour standards, while they wait for their permanent residency application to be reviewed. The previous process was lengthy and contributed to a situation of indentured servitude.

Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC said “The benefits of open work permits help to balance an unequal relationship between migrant workers and employers.”

Without this change, if employers violate labour standards by paying workers less or providing inadequate workplace safety levels, Live-In Caregivers must either accept the situation or register a complaint and risk losing their work visa and their job.

Unfortunately, employers regularly violate labour standards. In Minister Kenney’s own province, the Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration uncovered a great many workplace violations. In 2010, after inspecting over 400 workplaces employing migrant workers, the Ministry found 74%  of  employers  had  violated  the  province’s  Employment    
Standards Act.

In the recent publication  Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Model Program or Mistake, the CLC has documented numerous examples of employer abuse of the TFWP. The list of violations includes:
•    Unpaid and underpaid wages.
•    Wage exploitation.
•    Physical and psychological abuse.
•    Heavy workload and excessively long hours without rest.
•    Inadequate living conditions.
•    Confiscation of passports and restricting communications.

These problems have existed for a long time and Canada’s former Auditor-General, Sheila Fraser, noted in her 2009 review of Canada’s TFWP that “little is being done to catch the abuse occurring on all sides of the program.”

In 2010, Minister Kenney announced his department would establish a list of employers who had violated labour standards (known as ‘disingenuous employers’) and they would be sanctioned from using the program.

Unfortunately, and despite numerous incidents, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has yet to list one bad employer.

Yussuff remarked, “It is astonishing despite the findings of the CLC and many of our affiliates, not to mention the voices of courageous workers themselves who have identified many workplace injustices, this government can’t list one employer who violated our labour standards. Clearly, there remains a pressing need for strong compliance, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure all temporary migrant workers have access to meaningful labour protections in their workplaces.”

Barbara Byers, Vice-President of the CLC, agrees and points to an important measure the Canadian government can now take to protect many of these workers – ratifying and implementing a new international Convention that extends basic labour protections for domestic workers.

In June this year, the international labour movement, working closely with domestic workers from around the world, brought the voices of domestic workers to the International Labour Organization (ILO) where a new convention was passed.

The Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers sets out specific standards for the treatment of Live-In Caregivers. The convention gives domestic workers employed in people’s homes the right to form unions and establishes standards in areas such as working hours, maternity leave and minimum wage.

The CLC provided funding to bring  women to the ILO meeting including four domestic workers’ advocates from Canada. “Having these women present made it a different discussion,” recalls Byers. “Because when employers and governments would say ‘we don’t have problems in our country,’ there were domestic workers there who would say ‘actually, you do have problems in your country, and we’ve seen many cases where people come from our country to your country and experience serious workplace abuses.”

Though this was a historic and important victory, the next step is to get the Canadian government to ratify and implement the Convention within Canadian labour law so that the 150,000 Live-In Caregivers working in the country can have access to what the rest of world has now recognized are basic labour rights for domestic workers.

The CLC, representing over 3 million workers, calls on the Canadian government to ratify and implement the Domestic Worker Convention.