The Life of Foreign Domestic Workers

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In 2009, over 38,000 foreign domestic caregivers arrived in Canada (Citizenship and Immigration Canada). They left their homes, workplaces, and loved ones, in hope of financial gain and improved living conditions (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). The foremost goals that drive these workers to immigrate to our country are based on family welfare, namely, to accrue capital to send home and to obtain citizenship to bring their kin overseas (Pratt 1999). I have witnessed first hand the length to which these people are willing to go to in order to fulfill these goals. Over the past 19 years of my life, I have come to know over two dozen live-in caregivers who worked for my family for varying periods of time. As I grew older, I began to wonder what motivated these women to make such great sacrifices. In my research I have discovered discourses of foreign domestic workers and the events that have taken place in their progression from their home country to Canada. The women equate immigrating to Canada with making a better life for themselves and ultimately their families, however, the research demonstrates that it in many cases, the opposite is true. The actual process of immigration that people must adhere to produces obstacles and hardships that press upon the workers' human rights (Pratt 1999). The following essay will depict the reasons why foreign workers are interested in immigration, the process of Canadian immigration for a foreign domestic worker, and how these factors attribute to the overall degeneration of these immigrants' health and livelihood. Although foreign caregivers depart their home countries in an effort to improve their lives, through an analysis of immigration discourses and literature on foreign domestic workers, the following will depict the obstacles they face by way of human rights standards, living conditions, social status, and immigration policies.

Geraldine Pratt (1999) says the main reason why foreign women come to Canada is to establish citizenship for themselves and in turn for their families. The women who work as migrant caregivers are drawn to the fantasy of a better life because they hold the financial burden of supporting their families (Lan, 2003). Accordingly, Canada is regarded as a country that promotes and provides socio-economic freedoms and rights that improve and increase human growth (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). As a result of historical dynamics such as colonialism, debt repayment, and the reinforcement of poverty through structural adjustment programs, women of foreign countries, specifically the Philippines and the Caribbean, are forced to immigrate to countries such as Canada to secure employment and financial gains. (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). Family welfare is of the utmost importance to these workers, who as women find it difficult to receive the appropriate remuneration for their efforts (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). Other motives for foreign domestic workers to immigrate have been to further education, increase standards of living, and as well, secure citizenship in order to bring over family members from their country of origin (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). Also, the countries from which the workers emigrate are highly dependent on the services they carry out abroad. For example, in the Philippines, the transfer of funds overseas is the main source of foreign currency, and further, these funds have become a vital resource of wealth to the country's economy (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). However, remittances to support family back in their home country have become detrimental to workers' psychological health. Lan (2003), states that Filipinas are faced with increased pain from separation. This adversity is simply one of many impediments foreign domestic workers face but regardless of their challenges, the monetary burden that rests upon the workers is too great to return home (Lan, 2003). Once there is the motive to emigrate, the process of immigration is initiated, and specifically in Canada, this procedure is conducted through the Live-in Caregiver Program.

The 1992 Live-in Caregiver Program, according to the Canadian government is a form of foreign aid that provides the opportunity for full citizenship rights for migrant workers (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). The Canadian Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), operates very similar to a work visa. Obtaining Canadian citizenship through this program is an involved process whereby the prospective worker must first fulfill two years working as a live-in caregiver (Pratt, 1999). Caregivers retain legal status as temporary workers only, as their stay is conditional on the full succession of their contracts (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). The process begins in the caregivers' country of origin, where "agents" who claim to facilitate the process, in fact pressure the women to appropriate their image and capabilities to meet standards set by Western employers. According to Pratt (1999), these agents recommend that the workers exploit themselves by agreeing to work long hours for minimal wages. They also encourage the women to send un-pampered photos of themselves to ensure that female employers will not worry about infidelity and seduction where their husbands are concerned. In addition, they are instructed to send photographs of them depicting they have a clear understanding of the Western philosophy of housekeeping, which includes the use of modern appliances. The rationale for such exploitation is to expedite the process (Pratt, 1999).

Although the program appears laissez-faire, there are several eligibility barriers to entry that include but are not limited to education and training qualifications for foreign workers (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). As such, the gatekeepers of Canadian immigration have initiated a system of constraint and thus, the LCP has directly influenced immigration policies in a negative manner (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). Struggles exist for highly skilled caregivers in order to gain entry into Canada, as the country does not recognize the caregivers' credentials (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Foreign domestic workers, who immigrate through the LCP, often enter with high qualifications as physicians, professors, and engineers, but shortly thereafter, find themselves accepting low wages for long hours of employment as housekeepers to fulfill the requirements of the program (Pratt, 1999). Live-in caregivers upon arrival, tend to congregate into ethnic enclaves in the metropolitan cities of Canada, and therefore become further segregated. This process provides evidence that the LCP deskills workers through immigration and subsequently homogenizes these housekeepers into isolated ethnic communities with poorly paid employment (Pratt, 1999). Additionally, the LCP tends to constrict occupation alternatives after the mandatory program requirements are completed (Pratt, 1999). Some argue that the Live- in Caregiver Program is simply a policy that exists due to a lack of Canadian supply for domestic work (Pratt, 1999). However, there are others who dispute this and claim that the only reason why immigrants undertake this line of work is due to the fact that the wages for caregivers are abysmally low, and no Canadian citizen is willing to operate under such conditions (Pratt, 1999).

Unfortunately, the common yet misinformed public perspective is that the housekeepers will only suffer about two years of hardship in return for Canadian citizenship and thus, the ends justifies the means (Pratt, 1999). It was not until early 1995, when live-in caregivers were empowered with the ability to be compensated for working overtime hours (Pratt, 1999). Pratt (1999) illustrates the reasons for caregiver abuse as being a result of a divided government with respect to the regulation over workers' rights. The Federal government oversees the LCP, while the Provincial government is responsible for the employment standards (Pratt 1999). This disintegration makes it extremely difficult to implement reforms to the policy. Mistreatment of live- in caregivers is common and it is argued that the program's policies have a direct influence on such oppression (Pratt, 1999). For example, as the guidelines of the program state that the caregiver must live within the home of their employer, the employer, in addition to being able to pay minimum wage for such labour intensive work, can further deduct the cost of 'room and board' from the caregiver's wages (Pratt, 1999). Other forms of exploitation as a result of the live-in home requirement include sexual abuse from employers as well as lengthened work hours (Pratt, 1999).

Live-in caregivers must face intricate social borders that arise within the employer's home (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Disrespect, discrimination, and racism, take a toll on the workers' health and exist due to the lack of rights for domestic workers (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). The abuse is unidentified due to the private nature of the home, thus it is very difficult to recognize and prevent. It is well documented in specific cases that employers take advantage of their caregivers, sometimes demanding their aid in their businesses as secretaries (a violation of workers' permits) under threat of termination and deportation (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Another example of how the employers belittle their employees occurs when employers refuse to allow workers to utilize any amenities within the home (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Kitchen utensils, bath towels, as well as certain foods and joining the family at mealtime, would be strictly off limits to employees due to racial discrimination. It has been verified through statistics that discrimination exists within LCP policies (Stasiulis and Bakan, 1997). On the opposite spectrum, author, Pei-Chia Lan discusses Filipina migrant workers, and the importance of family relationships to the caregivers. Lan (2003) states Filipinas are faced with increased pain and guilt from separation. Due to obvious geographical constraints, these women find it arduous to display their motherhood and affection to their kin, therein relying on their contributions and gifts sent overseas to sustain relations (Lan, 2003). Lan (2003) alludes to the notion that over time, caregivers become "motherly" or emotionally close to those they care for and this may be as a result of the lack of contact with their own children. This perception progresses to the point where in some instances, the children prefer the caregiver to their own biological mother. In these situations, the caregivers have no choice but to reassure their employers that they only have good intentions where the children are concerned otherwise their employment within the family could be in jeopardy. To this end, they must explain that they are not trying to assume the role as 'mother' but rather they wish to demonstrate their own feelings of love and warmth because they miss their own children so deeply (Lan, 2003). It is understood that this compulsion to establish emotional ties with employers' children serves as a reward for housekeepers' underpaid and underappreciated work while concurrently it intensifies the pain they feel from being away from their families (Lan, 2003). The care for children as part of domestic labour, Lan (2003) explains, holds a moral value. This concept is often demonstrated when employers make unreasonable requests of the caregiver to perform duties on behalf of the children, such as the requirement to baby-sit on their days off. Often this moral value is an employer's justification for the economic devaluation of labour and low wage pay (Lan, 2003).

Foreign domestic work is undervalued and is not worthy of economic status, thus rights and provisions for caregivers are inefficient (Ghosheh, 2009). Domestic work is considered by many cultures and societies as menial labour, performed predominately by women in their caring for family, and thus, does not receive a great deal of recognition (Ghosheh, 2009). Further, it has gendered the profession, and advanced the issues for women in the workplace (Ghosheh, 2009). As domestic work operates within a household, it only serves the persons that reside in the home rather than performing a service in an external market where it would hold value (Ghosheh, 2009). Labour exploitation and abuse result from the absence of regulation. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a domestic worker is "a wage earner working in a household under whatever method of remuneration, who may be employed by one or several employers for little or no particular gain from this work" (Ghosheh, 2009). Many countries go so far as to exclude domestic workers from their labour laws because they adhere to the same ideology as set out by the ILO (Ghosheh, 2009). As a consequence of the deficiency in laws and rights which prevail over household labour, specific patterns of maltreatment occur. Employers hold the caregivers' rights to liberty as they possess the legal documentation for their employment and immigration (Ghosheh, 2009). Communication is a major theme that acts as a catalyst for abuse either through a lack of understanding on behalf of the employers (which leads to both physical and verbal mistreatment) or in the cases where contact with caregivers' families is prohibited whilst working (Ghosheh, 2009). Because the LCP requires housekeepers to live in the homes, many do not have alternative accommodation if they fall subject to termination. Additionally, if they are fired from their employment, they risk losing legal status and may face deportation (Ghosheh, 2009). It is evident that there is a struggle of power, and reforms are necessary to eliminate this imbalance (Ghosheh, 2009).

Ghosheh, (2009) states that policy makers who have undervalued the nature of domestic work, must address the issues and form new theories for development. One idea that was being promoted was to eliminate of the LCP, thus, liberalizing the workers from the shackles of their employers and providing the freedom to be recognized as independent immigrants (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Another interesting plan of action was to eradicate the illusion of a better life found in Western Countries, thus, eliminating the appeal to immigrate and inhibiting the above-mentioned struggles (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Modifications must take place on both ends of the global spectrum to eliminate the hardships faced by foreign domestic workers. In Canada, several issues should be addressed, including: the elimination of the regulation that work permits are fixed to a single employer, that domestic workers should receive an increase in points in the Canadian immigration system to reward and demonstrate appreciation for their hard work in the 'profession', and that hours and wages should remain constant in accordance with the terms of a legally binding contact (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). One of the most significant changes needed, is the acknowledgment of workers' educational background and acceptance of their often outstanding credentials, which will promote the freedom of workers to practice their occupation within Canada, regardless of their background (Grandea and Kerr, 1998). Concurrently, in the Philippines, costs to immigrate overseas must be reduced and if possible, eliminated to further facilitate the process. This can be accomplished through the elimination of all fees, from the compensation of agents to the costs of program training. The most significant reform that the Philippines government can implement would be to promote their economy by creating more employment opportunities, thus, alleviating the desire to migrate and further developing the Philippines' socio-economic culture (Grandea and Kerr, 1998).

Recently, the Philippines Government implemented new laws and improved data collection to protect foreign domestic workers (Ghosheh, 2009). Accordingly, in recent news, reforms have been made to the LCP (Bataclan, 2010). The most significant change to the policy was the implementation of a ban on temporary caregivers from renewing their work permits after 4 years. (Bataclan, 2010) Another correlated news article reports that new regulations have made it mandatory for Western employers to provide more specific contracts, including wages benefits, work hours, and privileges for workers (Opiniano, 2010). The Canadian government will penalize those who are non-compliant with the rules. (Opiniano, 2010) However, there is a growing concern that officials in the government are indirectly discouraging Filipina caregivers to come to Canada, through their reforms to the LCP (Romero, 2010). This is substantiated by the fact that the fee for the entire process of hiring a caregiver, from recruitment to the medical examination is now entirely the employer's responsibility, thus, the overall cost of employment has increased (Romero, 2010). Accordingly, the demand for caregivers is likely to decline, therefore reducing the number of jobs available for foreign workers. One must consider if these new and improved reforms are ultimately producing a negative outcome (Romero, 2010).

The negative effects on those immigrating to Canada through the Live-in Caregiver Program outweigh the illusion of any positive outcome. They leave their home countries in the pursuit of a better life. However, the findings as revealed through this paper clearly illustrate that there are numerous obstacles facing foreign caregivers, namely, immigration policies, social status, human rights standards, and living conditions. It is evident that the end may not justify the means. Policy reforms and action plans to combat the issues that arise for foreign caregivers are essential in order to further improve the system. To that end, it is crucial that researchers continue to document the many hardships that currently exist within the immigration process of foreign domestic workers. Accordingly, theorists must develop novel initiatives to balance the inequality created through the power struggle that develops as a result of migration between the First and Third World (Ghosheh, 2009). Through a more systematic execution of these initiatives, and the willingness for both Western and Third World governments to increase their support and participation, one may see outcomes of positive change for foreign domestic workers (Ghosheh, 2009).