By Migrante BC
Vancouver, June 16, 2016 — As the world marked International Domestic Workers Day, Migrante BC and the West Coast Domestic Workers Association (WCDWA) organized a rally in front of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee offices at the corner of Hamilton and Georgia Streets in downtown Vancouver. The organizers highlighted and intensified their call to stop the Project Guardian , a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) initiative that targets and criminalizes caregivers hired under the Live-in Caregiver and Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). They also raised their demands that caregivers have open work permits and permanent residency upon arrival.
With Migrante and the WCDWA were current and former caregivers, migrant advocates and organizers, solidarity groups, lawyers, trade unions, grassroots organizations, and local MLA Mable Elmore who came to show their support and to give solidarity messages.
“Canada likes to pride itself as being a leader in the area of human rights. The reality however is that it treats TFWs, especially foreign caregivers, as disposable workers deprived of many basic labour rights. Worse, it criminalizes them through programs like ‘Project Guardian,” says Jane Ordinario, Migrante BC Coordinator.
According to Ordinario, CBSA continues its raids and deportations of caregivers found to be allegedly violating their work permits. “Project Guardian is a waste of tax payers’ money. Foreign caregivers are not criminals. The raids are often heavy-handed, very intimidating and the caregivers are not told about their legal rights during the process,” she added.
According to Natalie Drolet, WCDWA’s Executive Director and staff lawyer, Canada should grant the caregivers open work permits and permanent residency upon arrival. “It is unjust to tie a worker to one employer at one address. It leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because in many cases, the caregivers are afraid to leave their jobs because of the onerous process of obtaining a new work permit for a new employer,” said Drolet, whose association has been helping caregivers facing deportation because of Project Guardian.
Hessed Torres, a caregiver and member of Migrante, spoke of her experience under the caregiver program and described Project Guardian as “bullying” and “intimidating” caregivers. She declared to the crowd that “ if we, caregivers, are good enough to work, then caregivers, like me, are good enough to stay – as permanent residents.”
Local MLA Mable Elmore, Opposition Spokesperson for TFWs and Immigration also said more needs to be done to protect migrant workers’ rights. “Provincial legislation is needed to ensure that migrant workers are genuinely able to access and exercise their full legal rights, especially when they face abuse or exploitation due to unscrupulous recruitment agencies, immigration consultants or employers,” said Elmore.
“It’s also important that as a nation, we show the willingness to protect and promote the rights and welfare of all workers, especially migrant workers. And a first step towards that is the ratification of this international convention recognizing the rights of domestic workers,” she said, referring to the International Labour Organization’s Convention 189 (C189).
The International Domestic Workers Convention was approved on June 16, 2011 (hence, International Domestic Workers Day) and went into effect in 2013. It is the set of international standards that recognizes that domestic work is work and that domestic workers are entitled to equal rights, protection and recognition as other workers. Since coming into force, 22 countries have ratified the Convention. Canada, however, has not ratified the Convention.
At the rally were several lawyers, members from No One Is Illegal, Health Employees Union, Unite Here local 40, the Vancouver and District Labour Council, Iranian Solidarity Group, United Food and Commercial Workers, Movement for Workers Dignity Association, the Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights, the International league of Peoples’ Struggle, and Red Legal. -30-