Monday, March 30, 2009

Canadian Disgrace: Migrant Nannies & Caregivers.

Migrant nannies and caregivers in Canada are falling through the cracks of numerous federal and provincial government departments. In a recent series of stories the Toronto Star exposes unscrupulous and unregulated recruiters who exploit nannies and other domestic caregivers by luring them to Canada with false promises of nonexistent jobs, charging extortionary fees and confiscating their passports.

A recent editorial asks:

You have to wonder: If there were fly-by-night recruiters scamming prospective construction workers or oil rig roughnecks from overseas, would the government be ignoring these rogue agencies while merely punishing the illegal labourers?

I'd bet no.

But what if those foreign workers were women, whether from the West Indies or the Philippines, who disappear into middle-to- upper class homes for minimum wages and maximum hours as nannies and domestic workers?

Today, according to documents obtained by Brazao and Cribb, Canada Border Services Agency officials actually acknowledge that there is "ongoing fraud and misrepresentation," but the federal government is doing nothing.

Nothing.

So vulnerable women, isolated and frightened, are forced to give up their passports and their pitiful wages to some 20 Toronto-area agencies and individuals suspected of abuse and fraud until those illegal fees are paid off.

Meanwhile, their families back home starve.

That's if the victims aren't deported, burdened by crushing debt.

And yet the practice continues, right under our noses.

Is this the government's solution to the daycare crisis in this country?


To date, most of the foreign caregivers in Canada are from the Philippines. While the Filipino consulates try to help abused workers, they are powerless to enforce Canadian labour laws and standards.

Tears flowed down her cheeks, but Maribel Beato didn't let go of the microphone. "My employer cared more about the dog than me," said Beato, a nanny who had a horrific experience with a North York family last year.



The family dog bit her three times but she wasn't allowed to seek medical help, she said.

When she decided to quit eight months later, the employer wanted her to sign a paper that said the family wasn't responsible for the dog attacks. "I was told I won't get the record of employment or T4 if I didn't."

She didn't get the papers.


Ontario's lack of regulation of nanny recruiters contrasts dramatically with Manitoba's tough stance against fraudulent agencies. Legislation set to take effect April 1 in Manitoba bans agencies from charging placement fees to foreign nannies, beefs up enforcement and requires every agency to be licensed by the province.

Further, the Manitoba legislation portends that nanny recruiters must be members in good standing of a Canadian law society, the Chambre des notaires du Qu├ębec or the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. Names of all licensed recruiters and agencies will be posted on a provincial website so families can be sure they're dealing with a legitimate operator.

Provincial Labour Minister Peter Fonseca has repeatedly avoided this issue however. Confronted by opposition MPPs in the Legislature, he passed the buck onto the federal government. When reminded by reporters that other provinces have begun to ban recruitment fees for foreign workers, Fonseca grudgingly agreed to contact Manitoba's labour ministry to learn more about its planned April 1 crackdown.

A member of Fonesca's own Liberal caucus, Mike Colle, has upstaged him by introducing a private member's bill that, like Manitoba, bans fees paid by workers (which are also illegal in the Philippines).

"The exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers by unscrupulous recruiters cries out for government intervention," said Colle when introducing the bill this week. It's a cry that Fonseca and his labour ministry, set up 90 years ago to protect workers, have shut out for too long.

Meanwhile Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently acknowledged the problem and is looking to "blacklist" unscrupulous nanny recruitment agencies that exploit foreign caregivers in an attempt to put them out of business. Kenney added that the move is among a series of reforms he is considering to the federal Live-in Caregiver program.

It is an outrage that these injustices continue to take place and that both the federal and provincial governments have turned a blind eye to exploitation and abuse.

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