Members of Vancouver’s Filipino community are calling for an end to Canada’s live-in caregiver program (LCP) because they say it exploits women and divides families, especially at Christmas.
Indhay Suelo left her husband and daughter in the Philippines in 2008 to work under Citizenship and Immigration’s LCP, a temporary work program that facilitates the employment of foreign recruits as live-in caregivers.
Suelo said she worked six days a week and slept in a windowless storage room with a light that couldn’t be turned off, so she covered it with a black garbage bag at night.
“(My employer) threatened to deport me if I quit my job,” Suelo said. “I felt hopeless.”
Geraldine Pratt, a professor at the University of B.C. who has been researching the LCP, said many women like Suelo receive low wages, work long hours without overtime pay and can’t bring their families to Canada until they’ve completed 3,900 hours of live-in work within four years.
On Dec. 12, the federal government made changes to the LCP, eliminating the second medical exam required to apply for permanent residency and requiring that employers cover workers’ travel and medical costs and provide signed contracts that clearly outline work hours.
But Pratt said the changes are cosmetic and workers’ rights are still “precarious.”
Because they don’t have permanent status, they fear deportation if they complain about their work or living conditions, and they are not allowed to pursue any kind of education.
Gloria Remirata, a high school teacher from the Philippines who was separated from her children for six years while she worked in the LCP, said she was forced into the program “to survive,” not realizing it would rip her family apart.
“I missed every single occasion like birthdays, graduations,” she said, breaking down in tears.
“It’s important that families be together, especially at this time of year.”
Christina Panis, with the Philippine Women Centre of B.C., said there is an alternative to this “fatally flawed program” and it starts with universal child care.
She and opponents of the LCP are calling for a program that allows foreign workers permanent residency with their families, with the ability to use their skills and education in a field of their choice.