Unpaid working hours, outstanding overtime, lack of statutory holiday and vacation pay were all realities experienced by caregivers in 2011.
According to British Columbia’s Ministry of Labour, 21 complaints were received last year from domestic workers filing grievances for problems with compensation from employers.
Many of those caregivers earn minimum wage, which goes up 75 cents to $10.25 an hour on May 1 — the last of three scheduled increases. Caregivers in Vancouver are looking forward to the increased pay but fearful of how this raise may affect their livelihoods.
With pressures of increased costs, some employers could be forced to put their children in daycare or terminate their domestic worker. Caregivers worry that they may be expected to work additional unpaid hours to keep their jobs or that their hours could be reduced.
“My employer tells me that I am more expensive than the monthly mortgage,” says Lala, a local caregiver who followed her family from Hong Kong to Vancouver. “I write all my hours I work but they don’t give me the right overtime pay.”
Lala is not alone. Domestic workers feel vulnerable when speaking out about unpaid wages. Caregivers are required to work for two years, or 3,900 hours, before they are eligible to apply for permanent residence in Canada. During this two-year period, they may only work for one employer. Fearful that they may be sent home if they voice concerns over lost wages, domestic workers prefer to stay silent.
Ai Li Lim, staff lawyer and executive director of the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association (WCDWA), has strong concerns about the effects of the minimum wage increase.
“The caregivers should not be expected to bear the burden of this wage increase through increased costs for their room and board,” she said. “The government could provide other options to offset the costs, like an increased family tax credit.”
A few months ago, the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association received anonymous emails from caregiver employers expressing strong concern about the rising wage. “Some employers called us to ask if caregivers have rights,” said Alisha Bell, an independent contractor working with WCDWA.
The issue of domestic workers lodging complaints against their employers is a complex one. Caregivers often live with the family, eat meals together and take care of the children for years at a time. Domestic workers simultaneously provide money to their families back home, making the pressure to keep their job in Canada intense.
Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore said she has had visits from local caregivers.
“I have not heard any complaints from the employers of domestic workers, but we do have caregivers visit my office concerned about payments from their employers,” she said. Elmore refers the domestic workers to non-profit groups such as WCDWA or the Employment Standards Branch.
Mary, a caregiver from the Philippines, said she has worked for an employer she claims did not pay her for hours worked. “I put the kids to bed in the evening, the parents go out and I am expected to watch the kids while they sleep. I do not get paid for this time,” she said.
One alternative is a monitoring body that could make monthly reviews to ensure workers are paid for their hours.
“We recommended to Citizenship and Immigration Canada that a reporting system should be put in place to keep a close eye on employers and make sure caregivers are paid proper wages,” said Manuela Gruber Hersch, the general manager of International Nannies & Homecare in Vancouver.
There is an obvious solution to this dilemma. Both federal and provincial governments should commit to assisting Canadian families with the cost of care for their loved ones.
That means ensuring caregivers are paid fairly so that they can continue working. It also means that Canadian families should be better supported to pay their caregivers.
Sacha DeVoretz is the founder and editor-in-chief of GlobalImmigrantNews.com. Based in North Vancouver, the website provides a voice to immigration issues around the world.
Vancouver Sun April 17, 2012
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