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opinion

Evelyn Calugay, past president of Pinay, a not-for-profit grassroots organization for migrant and immigrant Filipino women. Kimberley Manning is principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University

Last month, members of the Montreal Filipino community gathered in the city’s Mackenzie King Park to celebrate the festival of Pista Sa Nayon. This annual event, which highlights the rich hospitality of the Filipino people, brings together different cultural groups from across the city to share food, music and dancing. Despite the important contributions made to Canada by Filipino people, many do not receive the same extension of hospitality in return.

As one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in the country, Filipino people play a huge and growing role in the economy. Filipino women have been serving as the primary labour source for domestic care in Canada – undertaking the invisible and undervalued labour of caring for young children and the elderly in Canadian homes.

Although many domestic workers strive for permanent residency and eventual reunion with their families, current regulations not only make it extremely difficult to reach their goals, but also dangerous. Filipino caregivers are especially vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

The recent case of Gelyn Dasoc-Hilot is just the tip of the iceberg. Last November, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission asked her former employer to pay her $41,600, to compensate for unpaid hours, illegal deductions and the intentional violation of her rights. Expected to work 12-hour days in the months after her arrival from the Philippines in 2012, Ms. Dasoc-Hilot found herself subject to a regulatory regime that left her highly dependent upon the employers who were exploiting her.

In order to be eligible to apply for the status of permanent resident, care workers must work two years in Canada. They are issued an employer-specific work permit which makes it hard to change employers. Indeed, a new work permit can take four to six months to secure. Any type of job loss greatly increases the time they must wait before they can apply for permanent residency. It also means they are prohibited from working in the interim. This in practice makes caregivers extremely dependent upon their employers, and at risk for abuse. It can also mean that caregivers and their children experience years of enforced separation from one another, an outcome with serious consequences for the long-term welfare of their children.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In the short term, work permits must be de-linked from a specific employer, one of the chief causes of the dependency experienced by Ms. Dasoc-Hilot, who rightly feared deportation if she left her abusive employer. Second, domestic workers must be granted the right to apply for permanent residence upon arrival – a possibility available to immigrants who arrive through channels such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program, like managers and electricians.

Although these simple changes will make a profound difference to the lives of many of the Filipino women providing care work across Canada today, they are insufficient measures to address the gendered and racialized structures of inequality that plague the international system of care work from which Canadian families benefit. We thus suggest a more “global” rethink of Canadian care work; specifically, that the federal government establishes a policy framework that recognizes and rewards care work as foundational to the well-being of our society.

As the Canadian population ages and parents struggle to meet the increasing costs of childcare, we urge policy makers not to treat migrant caregivers as a source of disposable labour but rather to invest in their training, education and compensation. Much in the way that Canada recruited nurses from the Philippines to address a nursing shortage in the 1970s, we can and should lay the social foundations for equitable employment through recognizing childhood educators and medical attendants as the educated professionals that they are.

Over the past few decades Filipino care-giving and hospitality has become essential to the well-being of Canadians and the Canadian economy. It is time for Canada to move beyond an undervalued and precarious patch work program of care and invest in a more holistic, humane, and yes, feminist approach to care – an approach that not only systemically recognizes and compensates care work, but also provides protected paths to citizenship and family reunification.