Migrant domestic workers have been coming to Canada without full immigration status – which means without full rights – since 1955. Sixty-six years of exclusion and exploitation. And for sixty six years they have been leading the fight for justice.
Today is International Domestic Workers Day – a day to mark decades of organizing to win respect and rights for those who do the in-home labour, and care for children, sick and the elderly.
International Domestic Workers Day marks the 10th anniversary of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers of the International Labour Organization (ILO Convention 189). It requires countries to ensure equal rights for domestic workers. Canada refuses to sign this convention or implement it.
And so today we reflect on our histories:
- Black Caribbean women, along with many other workers, led the fight to create a path to permanent residence (PR) for migrant care workers in the 1980s.
- In the 1990s, workers’ struggles forced the removal of a number of exclusionary requirements, but care workers were forced to live in employer homes.
- In 2010, migrant care workers won the Juana Tejada law, removing the requirement for a second medical exam to get PR.
- In 2014, care workers won an end to the live-in requirement. But a cap of 2,750 per year was put on PR applications, and unfair requirements for English and education were put in place.
- In 2017, care workers led the fight to remove medical inadmissibility rules, which led to them being significantly reduced, though they remain in place.
- In 2019, care workers won an Interim Pathway to allow many workers in Canada to get PR without the exclusionary requirements introduced in 2017.
- And during COVID-19, migrant care workers are organizing across the country for vaccine access, mobility and immigration and labour rights.
Migrant women hold up Canada: Temporary foreign workers make up 10% of private household workers in Canada. Thousands of undocumented mostly racialized women are doing in-home domestic work. Thousands more migrant women are working in long-term care homes and as personal support workers.
But immigration laws force care workers into abusive jobs. Many care workers are tied to their employers, dependent on them for healthcare and housing, and separated from their families for years. According to our last survey, 1 in 3 workers we spoke to were laid off during COVID-19 but are not allowed to work anywhere else.
Even those who complete the impossible PR requirements are made to wait years to hear a decision on their applications. Many of us signed petitions and delivered them on May 9th. As a result the government promised to process 6,000 out of 12,000 applications in the backlog by the end of this year. That means half have to wait another year and half, stuck with potentially abusive employers and without open work permits.
Worse still, no new PR applications for childcare workers are being accepted this year. The program’s arbitrary cap of 2,750 applications per year was reached on April 30th, and care workers must now wait until next year to apply.
Those who fall out of status because of these impossible requirements or are in undocumented care work are unable to assert their rights at work and are shut out of basic services like health care and income support.
The government’s new PR program for essential workers that opened in May allows some care workers to apply. But those who have lost their status, those without work or without English language test results are excluded.
But migrant care workers are continuing the struggle, join in! On June 20th, find an action near you or organize one in your community: https://migrantrights.ca/june20/
- VANCOUVER: June 20, 10am, CBC Plaza.
- TORONTO: June 20, 1pm, IRB, 74 Victoria Street, March to City Hall
- SUDBURY: June 20, 1pm, MP Marc Serrée Constituency office. 2914 Hwy 69 N, Unit 1, Val Caron
- ONLINE: Take a photo with your family and post a message to Justin Trudeau: Unite All Families! Status for All!. Make sure to tag @MigrantRightsCA
- IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD: Put up posters and distribute pamphlets.