Migrant care workers expose exploitation ‘Behind Closed Doors’ during COVID-19 in new report
A News Release from the Migrant Rights Network of Canada
Posted October 28th, 2020 on Niagara At Large
Toronto, Ontario — Migrant care worker organizations are releasing a report today documenting the experiences of hundreds of racialized migrant domestic workers during COVID-19.
The report, “Behind Closed Doors: Exposing Migrant Care Worker Exploitation During COVID-19”, features shocking stories of abuse including working every day without a break, thousands of dollars in stolen wages, workers being trapped in employers’ homes for months, and being laid off and evicted.
The report documents how these crises threaten workers’ ability to unite with their families and access permanent residency, and calls for full and permanent immigration status for all migrants as the only solution.
“I came to Canada for my future and my family’s future, but my employer took advantage of me and underpaid me because of my tied work permit” said Karen Savitra, a migrant care worker from the Philippines who has been in Canada since 2016 and is a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre. She worked 12 hours a day, 5 days a week during COVID-19, but was only paid $1,440 per month until she was fired because her employer moved out of town to escape the pandemic.
“We should be given permanent residency upon arrival, along with our families, so that there is no complication for anything. They allowed us to come to Canada, we worked here, now we want fairness.”
The report is based on over 200 surveys that were filled out by migrant care workers from across the country. Nearly 1 in 2 respondents that kept working during COVID-19 reported longer hours of work.
Over 40 per cent of respondents also reported not being paid for any extra hours of work, averaging approximately $226 in unpaid wages per week, or $6,552 in unpaid wages per worker over the last six months.
“I am worried about being without status. It’s very hard. It’s very scary,” said Harpeet Kaur, a migrant care worker from India and member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, speaking at the report launch today. Her work permit is expiring in November, and according to the terms of her work permit, she is not allowed to work for any other employer.
“Without full immigration status, migrants like me don’t have the power to protect ourselves even in COVID-19. It’s not fair.”
One in 3 survey respondents reported not being forbidden by their employers to leave the house, take public transit, buy groceries, send remittances to families abroad or visit doctors during COVID-19. Workers were barred from meeting with friends or partners.
In one case, a worker reported her bank account being frozen but not being able to visit the bank to resolve the issue because her employer would not let her leave the house. As a result, the worker was unable to send remittances to her family for 3 months.
More than 1 in 3 survey respondents lost their jobs during COVID-19, and were forced to move out and try to find new work. One in 3 respondents that lost work reported on-going problems in accessing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or Employment Insurance (EI).
Nearly half of all respondents reported concerns about employers processing their Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs). Without an LMIA, there is no work permit and workers cannot complete the 24 months of work necessary to apply for permanent residency.
“I’m so worried because I need a job to support my family,” says Vancouver-based Judy Cabato, a migrant care worker from the Philippines. Judy, a member of the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Worker and Caregiver Rights, was laid off in April. She has completed the requirements to apply for permanent residency but application processing is delayed due to COVID-19. Her work permit, and therefore her health card and Social Insurance Number, also expired. As a result, she cannot access emergency income support or healthcare.
“ I’m here in Canada to work. I want to work. My family needs me to work. I am appealing to the government – grant us, all migrants, without exception, Full and Permanent Immigration Status For All, and Now!”
Actions are taking place across Canada on November 1 and 2, 2020 including in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Sudbury, Niagara and Sherbrooke: www.MigrantRights.ca/Nov1 .
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE REPORT & WORKER QUOTES
Please read the full report including recommendations here:
Lack of permanent resident status makes it impossible for workers to assert their rights
“I work non-stop as a live-in caregiver under elderly care program. Since pandemic I am working 24/7 for months without the chance of having my off day during the weekend. I have no choice since my work permit is tied to my employer until I am able to complete my 24 months experience and my contract that I signed with them.”
“Treatment for care workers here in Canada isn’t fair. The employer’s taking advantage of workers without permanent paper.”
Workers are being forced to work long hours without pay
“I’m working more, longer hours! Since I am staying in the house even though I am on my day off I still have to work and no overtime pay.”
“I’m working more, longer hours!, my employer is very rich and big house they love to party and i works long hours then they didn’t pay me for my over time”
Employers have trapped migrant workers in homes
“I really want to go back to my apartment and it’s only a walking distance from my employer’s home but they won’t let me”
“I can’t even go out because my employer is scared that I might bring them the virus.”
I’m just concerned about the 12-13 hours work with just 8hrs and late pay. Need to work on Saturdays and Sundays in order not to be starved. They’re not forcing me to stay just inside the house, however, they’re not allowing me to be in public transportation. Whenever i want to go outside and have some walk, I am obliged to inform them, and be back immediately. Therefore, it is simply a strategy not to leave the house during the weekend. I’m so sad for no freedom at all.”
“Due to the virus, I have no freedom, I hope that I can apply for PR in advance.”
Many workers who were laid off cannot access income support because of expired SINs caused by permit processing delays
“They stopped my EI because my SIN expired. I can’t find a job because my SIN and Working Permit are expired. What will I do?”
Many workers are concerned about being unable to complete program requirements due to COVID-19:
24 months of work necessary to apply for Permanent Residence
“I’ve been in Canada for almost 2 years now but i have only completed 7 months of on-permit experience in the 2 years i was here. 24 months is a really long requirement for getting PR. They should at least launch a program too for us soon so we are able to apply PR. Working while there is COVID is risky too with us nannies, not only for health care workers. We keep the children safe and we can’t go anywhere since we are very cautious of riding public transit. They should open another path since there’s lots of application backlogs and pandemic is still going on. Or better create another program for us to easily get our PR now. The new pathway takes lots of requirements and long processing time.”
High English language requirements
“I’m 4 years with my employer but can’t apply to Permanent Residence because I failed the English test. My employer released me even though she did need a live in caregiver.”
“I’m stressed with my bosses divorce fight and they put me in the middle all the time. I can’t focus on doing my paperwork and can’t pass the English test. I am a single mum with 4 kids. I am working hard to provide for my kids, and now I’m worried that I can’t reunite with them because of the English test and the education evaluation.”
Lack of sick leave and healthcare are exacerbating increased mental and physical health concerns
“I am still working during the coronavirus crisis, I am really concerned that I can not get PR if I get sick.”
“I’m worried because I don’t have status since I already applied for my PR and open work permit. My SIN and my OHIP both need to be renewed but I can’t.”
“I am feeling so depressed about my family if I will get PR or not. Working without family here alone it’s too difficult”.
Family separation is a primary concern for migrant care workers
“I’m always thinking about my family back home. This pandemic caused me so much stress thinking how to bring my family here in Canada. It’s not easy to be alone.”
“I applied for my PR in September 2019 and still no response. Just a few weeks ago I received an email to confirm that I couldn’t sponsor my only son because he is 23 years old now. I am really so sad about it because I have only one son. COVID delayed everything.“
“I want to reunite with my family as soon as possible. My kid was only 4 years old when I left home. I do hope Canada will make it easy for us to reunite with family easily.”
To read more from the Migrant Rights Network, click on the organization’s website at – https://migrantrights.ca/ .
To read a post Niagara At Large ran earlier this 2020 on a rally for migrant workers in St. Catharines/Niagara, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/06/15/caravan-of-activists-rally-in-niagara-in-support-of-fair-treatment-for-migrant-farm-workers/
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