Protestors attend an action in support of migrant worker rights in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, in Toronto on August 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Protestors attend an action in support of migrant worker rights in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, in Toronto on August 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Advocates call for migrant care worker protections, document alleged pandemic abuses

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the experiences of many migrant care workers are ‘heart-breaking’

Migrant care workers are increasingly being exploited during the COVID-19 pandemic, an advocacy group said Wednesday as it called on the federal government to bolster protections for the workers and grant them permanent resident status.

The Migrant Rights Network said a growing number of the workers who come from abroad to care for children, the sick and the elderly in employers’ homes have reported issues like underpayment of wages, longer work hours and even evictions.

The group — which has issued a report after surveying more than 200 of the workers — said some also reported being restricted from leaving their employers’ homes over fears of COVID-19.

Migrant care workers — who are in the country on permits — have little legal protection when dealing with such issues and need support from Ottawa, the group said.

“Restrictive immigration laws have produced conditions for exploitation and abuse that care workers are facing now and have faced for decades,” said Diana Da Silva, an organizer with Caregivers Action Centre, a member of Migrant Rights Network.

“These experiences are not new, but have been further exacerbated during COVID-19,” she said.

Some workers have seen their hours of work cut, which prevents them from accumulating the employment hours and pay required to apply for permanent residency, the group said.

“Permanent resident status is the single most important change that would ensure migrant care workers can protect themselves against labour exploitation,” the report said.

“(It) immediately gives workers the ability to leave a bad job and make a complaint without fear of reprisals.”

Harpreet Kaur, a migrant care worker who came to Canada from India in 2016, said in her first job in Edmonton she worked long hours each day and was paid between $600 and $700 a month. After leaving that job, it took her over a year to find another position that fulfilled strict immigration requirements.

The pandemic has now added another layer of worry, she said, with employers limiting or not permitting trips to get groceries, exercise, or send money home to family.

“During COVID-19 everyone is having a hard time,” she said. “Our employers don’t want us to go outside because they are scared of COVID.”

Karen Sivatra, a migrant worker from the Philippines, said she came to Canada in 2016 to build a better future for her family. She said the long hours she worked providing child care became even longer during the pandemic.

“When COVID-19 happened, the kids were home all the time,” she said. “I was working even more, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. … but I was paid the same as before. I was exhausted. “

Sivatra said she recently lost her job when her employer decided to move out of the Greater Toronto Area.

If the government granted workers permanent immigration status and changed work permits that are now tied to one employer it would help workers, she said.

“How can we support our families?” she said. “If we only had permanent residency, we could find a job easily.”

READ MORE: B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the experiences of many migrant care workers are “heart-breaking”.

Not only should Canada change immigration rules to help them, but the government should also address the prolonged family separation created by the current system, she said.

“These care workers have come into Canada to take care of our children, our loved ones, our elderly people with disabilities, all in the meanwhile we’re forcing them to separate from their own family members,” she said.

Kwan said the federal government has repeatedly said it will address the issues facing migrant care workers but has taken little action.

“It’s high time that the Liberal government stopped saying that they value these workers and act like they really do and give them status on arrival,” she said.

Raquel Dancho, the Conservative immigration critic said the pandemic has brought to the forefront a number of issues regarding the treatment of migrant workers.

“The stories outlined in the report are inexcusable,” she said in a statement. “Action must be taken to ensure that these abuses no longer take place in Canada.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not immediately provide comment.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusMigrant Workers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Last week singer Narissa Young, pianist Scott Arkell and the rest of her band released the jazz standards album ‘Fever.’ (Photo courtesy Dirk Heydemann)
Nanaimo jazz singer releases first album in nine years

Narissa Young’s latest CD ‘Fever’ features renditions of jazz favourites

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog is happy to be on hand as Dodd’s Furniture and Mattress, represented by president Gordy Dodd, presents 150 blankets to the Salvation Army in Nanaimo, represented by envoy Dawne Anderson. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Furniture store donates 150 blankets to Salvation Army in Nanaimo

Dodd’s cancels drive-thru giving event due to COVID-19, but finds another way to help

Creativity Commons manger Jonathon Bigelow is printing copies of ‘Alone but Not Alone: Poetry in Isolation’ using the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library’s Espresso Book Machine. (Photo courtesy Corinne Shortridge)
Nanaimo Harbourfront Library releases COVID-19-themed poetry anthology

‘Alone but Not Alone: Poetry in Isolation’ features poets from across the Vancouver Island region

Letter writer isn’t convinced that a pride-of-place campaign and a leaders’ table initiative will result in the kind of decisions and actions needed in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Real change requires more than buzzwords

Letter writer questions pride-of-place campaign, leaders’ table initiative

Nanaimo city councillors have recommended a $1.3-million cycle track for Albert Street between Pine Street and Milton Street. The city held a budget-focused finance and audit committee meeting Friday. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo budgets for new $1.3-million bike lane on Albert Street

Potential property tax increase now at 3.6 per cent after finance and audit meeting Friday

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog is happy to be on hand as Dodd’s Furniture and Mattress, represented by president Gordy Dodd, presents 150 blankets to the Salvation Army in Nanaimo, represented by envoy Dawne Anderson. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Furniture store donates 150 blankets to Salvation Army in Nanaimo

Dodd’s cancels drive-thru giving event due to COVID-19, but finds another way to help

Steve Metcalfe, Quality Foods Harewood store manager, holds a poinsettia and a Coins for Kids donation jar, two symbols of Christmas spirit. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin
Coins for Kids collects for Christmas causes in Nanaimo

News Bulletin fundraising for Great Nanaimo Toy Drive, Boys and Girls Clubs

(Black Press file)
RDN strengthens security after being alerted to publicly accessible property ownership information

Regional District of Nanaimo investigates, reports to privacy commissioner after anonymous e-mails

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of payments for household incomes up to $175,000

The opening day on Mount Washington this year was Dec. 4. Screenshot
Mount Washington opens on time, COVID-19 protocols in place

“We’re super excited - it’s been six months in the planning.”

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
First Nations Leadership Council demands justice for victims of B.C. social worker

Union of BC Indian Chiefs calls actions of Robert Saunders ‘nothing short of complete depravity’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

Most Read