Labour lawyer: Foreign nannies, fearful of immigration status, at the mercy of employers
What would you do if your boss monitored your every move with hidden cameras all over the office — even in the bathroom?
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Many of B.C.’s foreign nannies brought into the country through Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program would do nothing.
Vancouver labour lawyer Ai Li Lim has dealt with cases of workers who allege they have been spied on, hit, verbally abused, denied pay and breaks, even physically or sexually assaulted. But they are often too scared to speak out.
“When abuse happens many are reluctant to report it for fear it will affect their immigration status,” explained Lim, executive director of the West Coast Domestic Workers Association.
The issue is in the spotlight this week as Filipina nanny Leticia Sarmiento testifies in a B.C. Supreme Court human trafficking case against former employers.
Sarmiento alleges she was tricked into a life of domestic servitude when she moved to Vancouver in 2008 to work for Oi Ling Nicole Huen and Franco Yiu Kwan Orr.
She alleges that for two years she was not given a single day off. She worked 14 hours a day with no overtime pay. She was prevented from leaving the house alone, and was denied her passport. After a physical incident with Huen, Sarmiento called 911.
The couple pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face fines of up to $1 million, life in prison, or both.
“Nothing about the facts of the case surprise me,” said Lim. “I’m heartened that for once a case is being pursued criminally. I hope it opens the eyes of the public.”
The association handled 128 formal cases last year — a fraction of complaints. One reason for abuses, Lim said, is the system gives employers too much power.
Caregivers obtain work permits tied to specific employers and work two years before applying for permanent residency. This makes them dependent on employers, fearful of jeopardizing immigration dreams. There is little enforcement of labour laws, since they work in private homes.
To reduce abuse, Lim advocates general sector work permits and spot checks of employer homes.
About 5,000 new workers came to Canada through the federal Live-In Caregiver Program last year. Most go to Ontario and B.C.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada data show Filipino workers comprise the vast majority. but often, they don’t get to stay.
A 2009 report by Ottawa researcher Salimah Valiani revealed between 2003 and 2007, only 52 per cent of live-in caregivers succeed in achieving the very thing the program promised: residency.
Exploitation of migrant labour is a global problem. A 2007 Human Rights Watch report found widespread wage exploitation, physical and psychological abuse, food deprivation, long hours, and restricted communications.
In 2011, the International Labour Organization created global standards to act as an international treaty and protect the estimated 53 million domestic workers worldwide. Many countries have signed. Canada is not one of them.
For now, Lim said, workers have to advocate for their rights.
“Don’t stay in a bad employment situation, ever,” she said. “Don’t suffer in silence. There is support out there for you.”
Read more: http://www.theprovince.com/news/Labour+lawyer+Foreign+nannies+fearful+immigration+status+mercy+employers/8463942/story.html#ixzz2WUbc5p7N
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Occupations in services - Domestic work, Home child care providers, and Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations
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Documented cases of abuse and Statistics on work and life conditions
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