Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
Citizens of the world recently commemorated International Women’s Day. We reminisced on “the story of women’s struggle for equality” and celebrated the many achievements of women realized over a century since this special day began in 1911. When we reflected on what else calls for accelerated action on equality for women, one long outstanding issue pierced this Editorial Board’s consciousness. Namely, the second-class treatment by Immigration and Citizenship Canada of foreign domestic workers and caregivers, nearly all of whom are women of color from developing countries, and more than 90 percent from the Philippines.
We, therefore, beseech you to issue a specific ministerial mandate – a policy path to immigration and citizenship that is anchored in fairness for foreign domestic workers and caregivers, most of whom are women.
A. Timeless Story of Women-Inequality
Allow us at this juncture to share with you a story from one group of Canadian live-in caregivers. The Filipino Domestic Workers Association of Manitoba (FIDWAM) celebrated its silver anniversary in 2013. On that occasion, its President, Gloria Magpali, echoed in her opening remarks the collective memory of their membership, how their “lives were a constant struggle” (FIDWAM’s 25th Anniversary: A Touching Human Story by columnist Dr. Rey Pagtakhan in Winnipeg’s Pilipino Express, September 16-30, 2013).
Dr. Pagtakhan – a former Canadian Member of Parliament and senior cabinet minister and now a regular contributor to Canadian Filipino Net online publication – had printed in full in his column Magpali’s remarks and, thereby, captured in the caregivers’ own words their collective sentiments. Their remarks, made a little over 6 ½ years ago and reproduced in part below, resonate and best portray the continuing plight of Canada’s domestic workers today – a timeless story, indeed, of women-inequality:
“Tonight’s celebration brings to memory our sense of isolation, low esteem and apprehension 25 years ago when we felt alone and on our own for our existence and survival; when we continually heard the comments that we do the job that others do not want to do; when we felt being at the mercy of our employers and under constant fear of deportation; and when we began to be more acutely aware that, by the nature of our job and its status, we were easy targets for the violation of our dignity and human rights.
“Despite our collective apprehension and, sometimes, outright fear, we resolved: to work harder and live up to our employment contract obligations; to remain stronger in our belief that we were doing an essential job for many Canadian families – caring for their young children and aging parents and attending to those with special needs and their other household chores; to remind ourselves that we could send to our families back home the needed funds for livelihood and education; to console ourselves that we were providing a valuable human resource in Canada and contributing to the economic growth and development of our country of birth; and to keep re-assuring ourselves that one day, with God’s help, we would all be Canadian citizens.
“Twenty-five years ago our lives were a constant struggle. Now…We are proud and confident of who we are, what we stand for, and what we are able to be.”
B. Why Caregivers’ plight is a women-equality issue?
Many of these care workers, 98 per cent of whom are women, are highly qualified and available to meet Canada’s labour force needs, now and in the future. (See related article in this issue titled: Foreign Domestic Workers and Caregivers: Able and Available to Meet Canada’s Labour Force Needs). Has Canada been fair to them?
Under the Live-in Caregivers Program (LCP) which started in 1992, these domestic workers and caregivers only qualify for temporary employment visas for a limited period and only on condition they retain domestic employment. These conditions are restrictive and make them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by some employers and recruiters. They leave them no avenue or very limited option for progress even after fulfilling their contract of employment. All these notwithstanding their qualifications.
Yet, these LCP applicants would easily score 67 points or higher out of 100 to qualify under Canada’s Point System for immigration under the Federal Skilled Worker Program were they to be evaluated on the basis of skills, education, language ability, work experience and other factors such as age. This Skilled Worker Program admits a sizable number of male-applicants. Sadly, foreign domestic workers and caregivers, most of whom are women, cannot access this Program. Therein lies the gender inequality, not too obvious at first glance but very real.
Cycles of pilot projects have been adopted by Immigration Canada, with honest intentions we could accept. But the consequential gender-inequality to women has remained unresolved.
C. Gender-Parity for foreign caregivers is in your hands, Prime Minister
We have noted the progress your leadership has made in advancing gender equality in Canada on many fronts (see prior editorial below for March 1-15, 2020). We remember your historic statement, “Because it’s 2015.” That singular answer – beautiful in its simplicity and teeming with a deep sense of fairness – more than assured the women of Canada. Not only did you create Canadian history; you inspired a nation committed to fairness and human decency for women – a source of pride and inspiration for all nations and a source of joy for all women of the world.
Precisely because of your humanity-based leadership that we find it difficult to understand that compassionate Canada has changed for the worse with respect to how our recent waves of domestic workers and caregivers have been treated. Time was when the country invited thousands of British and European women and girls to Canada as household helpers and encouraged them to become permanent residents and citizens.
We believe, Prime Minister, you would help foreign domestic workers and caregivers achieve their cherished dream of: “one day, with God’s help, we would all be Canadian citizens.”
May you allow those who are already here to become permanent residents and allow future applicants to come to Canada as regular immigrants with permanent resident status on arrival and able to pursue options after fulfilling their entry employment contracts. Because they provide an essential service to the rapidly increasing number of ageing Canadians, the processing of their applications as regular landed immigrants should be expedited so that they arrive in Canada within two years upon filing the papers. Their future is in the hands of your leadership.
The Editorial Board
* CanadianFilipino.Net is the nationwide twice-a-month online magazine for and about Canadian Filipinos to inform, engage, dialogue, facilitate interaction and connect Filipino communities from coast to coast. It is published by an all-Filipino volunteer staff.)