Mr. Tristan Downe-Dewdney (Spokesperson, Canadian Live-In Caregivers Association):
Thank you very much.
First, I would like to extend my thanks to the committee for having me here today as a representative of the Canadian Caregivers Association. It has been a pleasure to read many of your comments in the press over the past few months as attention has been increasingly drawn to the plight of many live-in caregivers in Canada.
Though there have been very real political slants to some of the discussions Canadians have been having in the public forum, I remain encouraged by the prospect that very real solutions may be delivered for the long-standing problems that confront caregivers and the families who employ them.
The CCA, the Canadian Caregivers Association, stands by the many other groups, organizations, and advocates who would like to see improvements in the system. The CCA has a number of ideas that have emerged from the experiences of its members and the community it serves. Some of these ideas may be new to the committee. Others, as I'm sure you've heard in the past few weeks, may be a bit of a rehash, but I'd like to reinforce those that we agree with.
It has been the focus of the CCA, in examining the topic of policy, to explore the root causes of today's problems and to ask the “why” question. As the committee is likely well aware, the draw of the live-in caregiver program is the possibility of becoming a Canadian citizen, in addition to the internationally significant economics of global remittances. The foundation of the program is accessing a labour force that is chasing a vision of a better life both for themselves and for their families. These are real people and they are exposed to very real problems.
In addressing what kinds of changes are being made to the system, there are obviously a lot of ideas out there. The CCA, in its experience with the live-in caregiver program, is better versed in the legislation around that, so I'm going to address the questions of legislation on the live-in caregiver program.
I know there are other ideas, such as granting landed status right away, and a lot of others. I think a lot of them have a lot of merit, but just addressing the live-in caregiver program for the moment delivers, I think, some very quick solutions to some very major problems: problems such as abuse, families left without child care, and caregivers who sometimes are left without homes, are very tight for money, and are forced into very awkward positions.
Why do these cases occur? We would say that they occur because of a problem with waiting times and inadequate oversight. I'll start by touching on the question of waiting times.
In the Philippines, it can take as long as two years to get all the permits and paperwork required to come to Canada for the live-in caregiver program. Within Canada, caregivers who change employers under the live-in caregiver program can wait as long as six months for all the paperwork to be completed and to start their new employment. This has a major impact on families in terms of the extraordinary work-related problems that can emerge. Often these cases are seen in rural areas where there are no other child care options, and families are really hampered by these wait times.
But the biggest impact by far is on the caregivers, who are looking to get permanent residency. As I'm sure many of you are aware, it's required that caregivers complete 24 months of full-time employment--and that's registered, with all the paperwork done--over the first three years in order to be eligible for permanent residency.
When they change families and change employers, getting their PR status is put at risk. The caregivers often feel that they have to stay with their employers regardless of whether or not they're happy in that home. Too many transitions add up to significant waiting periods, and then they lose that option of getting the 24 months of full-time work within the first three years.
This can happen for any number of reasons. If a caregiver is waiting two years to come to Canada, an elderly employer might not be here when they get here, or may not be here shortly after they get here. There are also cases, obviously, of abusive employers, where caregivers feel they have to move right away or very quickly. Again, there are illegal working conditions in some homes, and caregivers feel they need to leave those situations.
There are a lot of reasons why caregivers may change employers. If they do this once, then they're looking at the possibility that maybe they can't do this a second time. They feel vulnerable and exposed because of this condition. They feel pressure, of course, to stay with families who might not be serving their better interests. Or they're left in limbo.
In terms of solutions, I personally think a very effective solution would be to reduce the waiting times for those permits--whether it's abroad, let's say in the Philippines--to cut it down from what can be a two-year waiting period to something more manageable. Perhaps it can be something standardized with the visa offices in, say, Austria, where it can be two months or less. It's very fast and very effective. If we were to standardize it, two weeks to two months might be a better waiting time.
Centralizing the processing of these applications and visas from overseas visa offices would also probably be quite effective, both in terms of cutting down on the waiting times and in terms of making sure that standards are even across the board.
I've certainly heard of cases where, for instance, a caregiver and their friend go to the consulate in Beijing. One has better English and goes second, but the visa officer has changed between their interviews, so the one with the better English is denied based on her English abilities, while the one before her, who acknowledges that her skills aren't as good, has been accepted. If there's some way these sorts of problems can be overcome, I think that would be significant in helping many caregivers.
With regard to oversight and accountability, I know there's been talk about the idea of a blacklist for rogue agencies, or bad placement officers and agencies. The blacklist is a nice idea. I would sooner look to a white list as a solution, though. The aim would be to deal with bad agents, ghost agents, and these sorts of things. And these are people who are quite capable of rebranding, popping up under a new name, or shifting ownership. They often have fairly complex networks. The idea of having a white list is to have an agency or agent qualify themselves and then be registered to do business. I know Manitoba is starting a program like that. I think that's perhaps a better way to go, and it will provide more oversight in that regard.
In terms of licensing, there's the idea of maybe setting up a definition of what a bad agency is and what a good agency is. I know there's a lot of talk about stopping bad agencies, but it would be great if there was a very clear definition of what sort of agency would be approved and what wouldn't be, what the conditions are for removing a licence, and that sort of thing.
In terms of setting the standards for agencies, we have a few ideas. The CCA suggested that maybe having the association of a CSIC member who would oversee all of the files might provide some oversight, since there are oversight mechanisms already in place for CSIC. Or, for instance, we could have a payroll rather than it just being somebody who's operating out of their home and who's shut down after they've brought their five people from wherever into Canada, and before they're caught doing some sort of bad business. We are also looking into the possibility of having human relations professionals involved. After all, these are families who are getting employees, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to make sure that these placements are suitable in the first place.
Another idea that's appealing to the CCA is the idea of tracking the work done. We could keep track of employers, firings, and caregivers who left early, just so a history could be established for many of these families. There are cases of caregivers who go to a home and there's been abuse there in the past, but they don't know. The government hasn't denied them a labour market opinion letter or anything like that. It's being able to say that this is your third caregiver and we can't give you another because there's been this clear history of reports of abuse. They could investigate that sort of thing.
Lastly, I think the idea of educating is a great idea. Caregivers definitely need to have a stronger sense of what their rights are before coming to Canada. There is a very real culture shock that many of them experience in coming here. Many of them have already worked abroad in other countries, be it as an au pair in Europe or elsewhere.
Some of the countries they come from also have very high official standards, but what they experience there may not live up to those standards. They may come to Canada thinking that it says they are protected on the books, but they don't trust the system to protect them. It would be great if they could be shown that government will stand up for their rights and that there are the mechanisms readily accessible to help them with that.
The other idea is to have checkups. I know the report put out by the committee included the idea of a checkup with an NGO after three months in Canada. I think that's an excellent idea. My only contribution would be that the CCA suggests it be ongoing. Of course caregivers changing homes is one of the big problems, and they're losing time that way. If their status could be checked on regularly and if they have complaints about an employer, they could voice those early and that could be kept track of.
When caregivers come to authorities or look back on a placement and say things were wrong there, there would be a record of that, and throughout the whole process of their placement an independent body could list the resources available to them, say they can help, this is where they can go.
And of course in Toronto or in Ottawa or in other major cities there may be resource centres where they can go, but in rural areas, for instance, there might not be a walk-in place and it might be good to have some sort of network.