Care workers have long been fighting for more rights, less restrictive requirements and landed status. But the pandemic has since slowed down those efforts while also exposing the very issues they’ve been struggling with for years.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2015/2016, “an estimated 881,800 Canadian households (6.4%) reported that at least one person received formal home care services in the previous 12 months.”
However, with layoffs and people working from home, more care workers are at risk of losing their jobs. Live-in care workers are reporting that they’re unable to leave their employers’ homes as families fear exposure to COVID-19.
“Our members, who are mostly racialized women, are doing important and high-risk work during this crisis – the families they work for rely on them to care for children elders, including those in our communities who are most vulnerable and sick,” said Diana Da Silva
an organizer at Caregivers Action Centre. “Something this crisis has revealed is that many workers who are paid the least are actually the most essential during the COVID-19 crisis.”
She added that in addition to getting paid minimum wage, care workers often work longer hours without pay. “It means they often earn less than minimum wage,” said Da Silva.
The organization hosts webinars to connect workers with lawyers and others in similar situations, while addressing concerns about immigration, workers’ rights, layoffs and employee abuse.
“For live-in care workers, since their closed work permits tie them to their employers, when they’re laid off, they lose much more than their jobs,” explained Da Sliva. “They lose their housing, income, and their way of supporting their families back home. They’re also at risk of losing their immigration status.”
As a result, workers are hesitant to complain about contract violations. They’re also less likely to speak up about unsafe work conditions. Some members of Caregivers Action Centre also have no access to healthcare or community support.
That’s why the organization is urging the government to give care workers landed status.
“We call on the federal government to regularize all migrants in the country – full regularization without conditions or limitations,” said Da Silva. “All future migrant workers must be able to immigrate to Canada as permanent residents immediately, independently and permanently without depending or relying on the sponsorship or good will of their employers or third-party agencies, without educational or language restrictions.”
Mildred Emolaga is the treasurer and one of the founders of Caregiver Connections, Education and Support Organization (CCESO), an organization that supports care workers and newcomers through workshops, training and social activities.
She said that strict requirements such as language assessment tests create more barriers even though workers have already passed a mandatory language test prior to moving to Canada.
“Each time you can’t pass, you have to pay $300 [for each exam],” said Emolaga. “I have a friend who has taken the exam four times and has spent over $1,000 but the more they take the exam, the more they don’t pass because they’re scared.”
Members of CCESO. (Photo supplied by Marlyn Lulham)
Caring for the Caregivers
Marlyn Lulham, a CCESO board member, is familiar with the struggles of care workers. She arrived in Canada in 2008 under the live-in caregiver program before losing her status for several years due to immigration backlogs. In 2014, she became a permanent resident.
While Lulham no longer works as a care worker, she keeps in touch with caregivers and provides a listening ear.
“One girl was telling me that during this pandemic she’s working 24/7; she can’t go out because her employer tells her it’s too risky. She can’t even go out to get what she needs and at one point they didn’t pay her for a month for the Saturdays and Sundays [that she worked],” said Lulham. “I told her that that’s wrong and she needs to discuss it with her employers.”
Through FaceTime or Zoom, Lulham tries her best to offer advice or simply connect with workers feeling especially isolated during this time.
“I let them know that they’re not alone and we’re in this together,” she said. “I also tell them that if they need someone to talk to, I’m just a text or phone call away.”
If possible, Emolaga urges care workers to sit down and discuss work-related issues with their employers.
“Sometimes employers also don’t know [the issues] because they have their own problems and family,” she said, adding that sometimes issues can be resolved through polite conversations to address any problems.
While technology has allowed members to keep in touch with one another, Emolaga still tries to add a more personal touch.
“Since I have my own apartment, I just cook and bring them some food,” she said.
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