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

Pnina Benyamini loved to be around people and people loved her. (Photo submitted)
Many facets to energetic woman’s legacy

Benyamini taught yoga, belly dancing and more to an adoring public

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone has been re-elected as chairman of the board at the CVRD. (File photo)
Stone re-elected as chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional District

Mill Bay/Malahat director Salmon elected as new vice-chairman

Municipality of North Cowichan.
North Cowichan considers options for aging Crofton Fire Hall

Staff directed to include funding for upgrades in the 2021-25 Financial Plan

People came out in droves to last year’s Moonlight Madness, including at Amy Hughes’ Bound To Be Different store. (File photo)
Moonlight Madness stretched over 25 days with alternating specials and giveaways

Change in plans results from new provincial health orders

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Care home staff are diligent about wearing personal protective equipment when they are in contact with residents, but less so when they interact with other staff members, B.C. Seniors Advocate says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
More COVID-19 testing needed for senior home staff, B.C.’s advocate says

Employees mingling spotted as virus conductor in many workplaces

Most Read