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The Montreal Gazette
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THE COLUMN: (Downloaded from The Gazette website Sunday March 30, 2003http://www.canada.com/montreal/montrealgazette/info/montgomery.html)
Abortion becomes price of a job Pregnant nanny is fired. Filipino woman fights back, but counsellors say her plight shows how workers are abused
SUE MONTGOMERY The Gazette
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Dahlia Namian, a counsellor at the Immigrant Workers' Centre, has been helping a Filipino domestic worker whose employer tried to force her to have an abortion. The centre says federal rules on live-in caregivers leave the women vulnerable to such abuses.
When Marisa's employers whisked her off to Notre Dame Hospital, they told her it was for something "that would be good for her."
"I thought it was for a checkup, and they were discussing everything with the doctor in French, so I didn't know what was going on," the petite 33-year-old Filipino woman recounted in almost a whisper recently.
But when her employer left the room for a few minutes and a nurse started talking to her about an abortion, it became clear what had been arranged.
"I was shocked," Marisa said. "I told them I couldn't have an abortion because it was against my religion."
What followed was a confusing scene of doctors and nurses trying to sort out whether the employer was the woman's husband, the father of the baby or both.
He wasn't any of those - just a busy, married career man with two children who would be greatly inconvenienced if his live-in nanny and maid should take her pregnancy to full term.
"He told me I was just an immigrant and what future would this child have?" Marisa told me, not wanting me to use her real name for fear of reprisals from her employment agency, Eurasian Homecare Services.
Obviously, without Marisa's consent, the doctor couldn't go through with the abortion - and Marisa paid with her job.
Her employers fired her on March 5, dropping all her belongings at the agency. The employers did not return phone calls yesterday.
On Friday, with the help of Dahlia Namian and others at the Immigrant Workers' Centre in Côte des Neiges, Marisa filed a complaint with Quebec's Labour Board, as it's illegal to fire a woman simply because she's pregnant. She also filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Labour board spokesperson Alain Major said one similar complaint was filed last year, but domestic workers generally remain mum.
"They're vulnerable and that makes them afraid to file a complaint," he surmised.
Marisa came to Canada in April 2001, under the 10-year-old federal Live-in Caregiver Program. After jobs with two other potential employers fell through, she was finally hired for this job in February 2002.
The program is designed to meet a specific "labour market need" in Canada, said Immigration Department spokesperson Susan Scarlett.
But the Philippines, for example, gladly exports its workers because the foreign currency they send back to their families is in part what saved it from the economic meltdown experienced in other Asian countries in the 1990s.
While Canada's live-in caregiver program may be beneficial to developing countries' economies, it can open the door to abuse for the workers here.
Advocacy groups are highly critical of its strict rules that say a person must clock 24 months of work within a 36-month period. It's a restriction that makes it all that much more difficult to leave an abusive employer, for fear of not finding another job in the allotted time, and makes no allowances for pregnancies.
Women - it's mostly women filling the demand - can work a 49-hour week, though most work much more because they live in the home and are at the beck and call of employers. They get paid $292 a week.
What attracts many of them is the fact they can apply for permanent residency once they've put in their time. "It allows many of them to immigrate where otherwise they may not be able to," Scarlett said.
But it's this very carrot dangled before them - the coveted Canadian papers - that opens the door to abuse, argues Walter Tom, an mmigration lawyer.
Marisa, for example, says both the agency and her employers threatened to have her deported if she didn't have an abortion.
Sure, the women are briefed on their rights before they leave their home country and given numbers of places they can go to for help, like the police and advocacy groups, but the reality is much different, Tom says.
"Once they're here, people tell them, 'Look, this is the way it is,' " and the threat of deportation always hangs over their heads.
© Copyright 2003 Montreal Gazette
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