A caregiver is: Prepared for this?

April drizzle maybe less gray and likened to baby’s hair, deceitful in lightness, but still seeps to the bones. Fewer layers of inner wear maybe warm enough but with thin cotton outerwear, you could get soaked with yet icy water.

That’s why I imagined she must have been shivering, even if hardly obvious, as we came closer to each other by the garden shop on my way home. The zipped-up pram she pushed looked like that of a baby, while walking with her, a woman hooded for the rain, who had seemed, to me like her Canadian employer, gesturing instructions. Up close, she met my eyes in that wordless supplicating look, recognizably Filipino, framed by her hair now drenched in soft rain.

Warm and dry back home, remorse assailed me as to why I didn’t offer my umbrella—I could have covered my head with my coat’s hood. But ignorant of the truth, it would have been simply impolite. Still I kept wondering if she had come to Canada unprepared not only about the weather but much more of the unexpected—though apparently, there’s less of these with recent changes made in the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Could the baby be the only one in her care, hence, merely a childcare provider? Or does her job include housekeeping, laundry and meal preparation? Wouldn’t that sound like a “domestic” then? Indeed, a typical wanted ad for a fulltime caregiver in the dailies reads like this: “For a family of four but job mainly for our four-year old son from feeding, bathing, taking him to prep school, organizing indoor/outdoor educational activities, such as reading kids’ books, doing craft, also bringing him to libraries, parks, a swimming pool, and wherever he can play with other children.” The ad underscores, “flexible time a must,” and inclusive of household work though Live-out “paid CAD11/hrs with medical insurance and monthly bus pass.”

We’ve known this all along, haven’t we? But even with imaginings of flawless blue Canadian skies, I, for one, have dwelt only on snippets of their stories, especially their dramatized sacrifices to make life possible back in the Philippines, which had virtually be-medalled them. Live-out as a choice, however, has lessened rather horrifying stories since, like that of Cita’s first job—her quarters in a basement had no real flooring, hence, winters had been brutal. For Faye, who left a teaching job and a father’s lingering heartache, loss of freedom or the sense of being “owned” proved quite a struggle to rein in. But pining for home, especially during winter’s early darkness, almost drove Rebecca to just break away like many others during those years when Smartphones and iPhones have not yet had the instant connections now possible. Too, a live-out arrangement has opened possibilities of renting a three-bedroom Recent sightings, indeed, paint brighter frames: it’s easy to spot them with their wards, a few carrying the child a la Nanay—in that heartbeat-leap we cradle a baby close to our breast; picture a little boy’s blond head at rest on his nanny’s shoulder, though most just bundle a baby with toys in a stroller.

Sparks of our ka-artehan, also tend to cheer jaded mornings on the bus as in a little girl, sometime ago—dolled up in a frock with matching ribbons, socks, and even a small purse, who, maybe sensing admiration, would smile back at us while her nanny fussed over the tiniest that might fall out of place.

No matter, my sentiments peaked to melodramatic heights by the time my sister came home; having had more interactions with them, she waved off my suppositions, declaring, not to worry about the Filipina in the rain, who like most caregivers without doubt, carries an inner strength of steel. “I knew of one who fed horses and pastured sheep yet laughed about it,” she closed the subject.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines April 17, 2016

The Live-in Caregiver Program changing?


“Yet another tactic to continue modern-day slavery program”—Filipino organizations

Vancouver, BC–Progressive Filipino women, workers and youth representing the aggrieved Filipino community maintain that the changes made on the federal government’s live-in caregiver program (LCP) announced by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Minister Jason Kenney are yet another tactic to justify the continuation and expansion of modern-day slavery program, such as the LCP, in Canada.

The National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC), SIKLAB Canada (Filipino workers organization) and Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance (UKPC/FCYA) criticize these changes, which are purely technical, and strongly contend that the changes was made to make the racist and anti-woman LCP more palatable to Canadians in order to cover-up the systemic weaknesses inherent in immigration policies and to defend the ongoing overhaul of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), such as the passing of Bill C50 and Bill C45.

The changes

The changes which were announced last December 12, 2009 in Toronto and Vancouver include extension of the period of being able to complete the live-in requirement from three years to four years; being able to apply for permanent residency after fulfilling 3,900 hours of work; elimination of the second medical examination when applying for permanent residency; employers covering the live-in caregiver’s travel and medical costs and providing signed contracts that clearly outline work hours, overtime, sick leave and vacation, and that live-in caregivers will be able to obtain emergency work permits within three weeks if they are abused.

“All these changes are only band-aid solutions. The announcement made by Minister Kenney unravels the hypocrisy deeply embedded in CIC. They do not genuinely address the exploitation and oppression of Filipino women under the LCP and will only make life more miserable to this group of already vulnerable temporary workers,” stated Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the NAPWC.

Since the implementation of the LCP in 1992 and its predecessor program the Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM), Canada has maintained and continues to uphold the stringent requirements of mandatory live-in requirement for 24 months within 3 years, temporary status and employer-specific contracts – the very fundamental pillars that set the context for the exploitative and oppressive conditions that these women are in.

For over twenty years now, Filipino-Canadians have been steadfast in calling for the scrapping of the LCP. However, for over twenty years, the Canadian government through CIC, has been adamant in its efforts to continue dehumanizing workers because of their status and in maintaining the modern-day slavery of women.

Amidst the slew of changes on the LCP, the NAPWC, SIKLAB and UKPC/FCYA contend that these reforms further expose the chronic crisis in Canadian immigration strategies and policies and the government’s failure to answer the much needed social services of its citizens, such as universal childcare and eldercare programs. The LCP is the de facto national childcare program and it is also being used to pave the way for the increasing privatization of healthcare.

CIC Minister Kenney: No Santa Claus to Filipino nannies

“Minister Kenney is no Santa Claus to thousands of Filipino live-in caregivers,” Diocson continued. “These reforms are an insult to all Canadians because we have a government that fails to stop the violation of human rights of these workers and instead perpetuate violence against women,” she added.

Although many see this program as a way for Filipinos to enter Canada, the realities of the impacts of this program far outweigh the benefits of citizenship. Offering the prize of citizenship has been a classic tactic for CIC, as they dangle a “carrot on a stick” in order to attract and retain temporary workers to fulfill the dirtiest, most difficult and dangerous jobs that no other Canadians would take.

While the federal government was quick to recognize that many live-in caregivers work overtime hours and that under these new changes, they now have the option of racking up their hours towards permanent residency, the provision of being able to apply for permanent residency after completing 3,900 hours is a misnomer and a ploy to deceive live-in caregivers that their time under the LCP is shorter. 3,900 hours still amounts to two years of full-time, regular work.

“The 3,900 hours is no different from working 24 months. This is, in fact, another way of exploiting the cheap labour of these people that will only benefit the employers,” stated Roderick Carreon, National Chairperson of SIKLAB Canada. The mandatory live-in requirement places caregivers under the beck and call of their employers for 24 hours a day. Employers can easily deny the number of hours the women have worked and although they are deemed to be protected under federal and provincial labour laws, there is no way of knowing what exactly transpires within the private sphere of the employer’s home.

Many women under the LCP work overtime hours for little or no pay, even after formalizing a set of rules about overtime hours on an employment contract, if at all. Despite the myth that caregivers are “members of the family,” the live-in requirement makes it more favourable to the employers to enjoy the cheap labour of these women.

Furthermore, extending the three-year deadline for completing the work requirement to four years will only lengthen the exploitation of live-in caregivers and lengthen the separation from their families. While CIC poses that this extension widens the window of opportunity for caregivers to apply for permanent residency and accounts for disruptions such as illness, pregnancy or job loss, this extension is a conscious effort on the part of CIC to have these women remain under the LCP even longer.

What the changes really mean

Presently, live-in caregivers wait 8-12 months to obtain their open work permit. This forces them to stay with their employers for the duration of the wait due to CIC’s processing delays and bureaucratic hurdles. In addition, the extension does not account for delays in paperwork, wherein employers withhold documents necessary for permanent residency applications, such as the record of employment, T4 slips, pay stubs, etc.

In addition, the elimination of the requirement to obtain a second medical examination when applying for permanent residency does not address the fact that majority of live-in caregivers’ ability to access healthcare is tied to their work permits. Many live-in caregivers, who are in between jobs and without valid work permits, are denied access to medicare, forcing them to pay their own health insurance and medical costs.

Carreon stated, “CIC must stop playing games with the lives of thousands of Filipino live-in caregivers. The reforms made on the LCP are a testament of the lack of political will in seriously addressing the demands of temporary workers to abolish the mandatory live-in requirement, to grant them permanent residency upon arrival, and the accreditation of their professional backgrounds. It is clear that the LCP is an employer-driven program and therefore will always be at the best interest of the employers and not the live-in caregivers.”

“A program that is inherently flawed and violent can not, will not and should not be reformed,” asserted Carlo Sayo, National Chairperson of UKPC/FCYA. “As workers, we should not allow Minister Kenney to pit us against each other,” he further stated. The reforms introduced by Minister Kenney is a measure to quell the escalating revelation of tremendous human rights and women’s rights violations that are legalized, authorized and stamped by CIC. Filipino women, workers and youth will remain vigilant in their struggle to end the exploitation and violence of these live-in caregivers as women and as workers.


Contact information:

In Toronto: Magkaisa Centre, 416-519-2553;

In Montreal: Kapit-Bisig Centre, 514-678-3901;

In Vancouver: Kalayaan Centre, 604-682-3901;

As published in Silangan, Philippine News and Views, Vancouver, BC

Hope for the Filipina?

 (as published in Silangan, Vol. 1 No. 2, May 2009, Vancouver, BC)


Live-in ka ba?

“Yes,” is the answer to both questions; more precisely “yes,” is the answer if action, theory and analysis, and back to action were applied based on both questions. 

A new lingo in the fight for humanly and equal rights for Filipino immigrant women workers especially live-in caregivers, is it? Yes indeed, because the struggle has been laid out on a credible stage—the academe.   

Luminous like stage lights in a new play copying rebirth—the season—is how I sense the lift in her eyes as Marilou Carillo, Ph. D. (University of British Columbia) of only a few weeks, gives the gist of her doctoral thesis on Filipino women activists. We sit diagonally across from each other in her living room illumined by soft chartreuse that brush her profile spring yellow. 

The struggle: Its roots, its growth, its promise, the trampling down of its blossoms, the demise of its promise, the specter it has turned into on the ground it has been seeded and how scandals, the rawness of its wounds continues to appall has been scrutinized, analyzed and found not annihilated but transformed—yet again, another tiny seed just risen off its bed. This seed is Marilou’s thesis, which she identifies as “Socially Transformative Transnational Feminism: Filipino Women Activists at Home and Abroad”.

The kernel is in the title of the thesis. “Socially transformative” refers to our actions to change things; it could begin with our own selves, for example in our desire to improve our lives with our education and our jobs but in the end will in effect change our country. Marilou says it simply, “As we work together we are changing things, as we struggle for change we are empowered; throughout the struggle we have changed, and as we work as communities, de-colonization is happening.”

“Transnational” situates Filipina migrant workers who have crossed continents, working in 190 countries as of last count—an opportunity that came in the guise of first world nations helping the third world; from our perspective, it is a marginalized view. As Marilou puts it, “Poverty has kept us in the cycle of violence that has taken us all over the world”.

“Feminism” defines the study as gender concerns but not in the Western sense because the Filipina’s issues are anchored more on poverty and sovereignty or their rights that are suddenly denied on foreign land–“Gender, race, class—you cannot isolate these from each other,” the author emphasizes.

“Filipino Women Activists Here and Abroad” identifies the kind of work women activists have done, demonstrating how action and theory can be bridged or knowing why a protest must be staged, and that it must address systemic issues or the root of what needs to be changed in our struggle. Feminist movements in the Philippines espouse different ideologies, and are in varied stages of development; some belong to a group of women who have lived through the Marcos years and who have migrated to other countries, yet all share Filipino visions of social change.

Exactly what struggle is this we’re talking about? Marilou arcs her petite arms as if to reach the span of centuries where it all began. She says the obvious, “Racial discrimination,” in its many guises. 

Between us flashed the densely layered history of our country—300 years of Spanish colonization, half a century of American rule, four years of fierce fighting the Japanese, who was not even our own enemy, to our wallowing today in a quicksand of economic woes; too, the rebellions, insurrections, protests, demonstrations of the oppressed, the victims of injustices, and the enlightened had waged and fought. The cycle of our struggle has not changed, of course, though the enemy has taken on even more insidious guises such as economic benevolence for supremacy and opportunities for slavery.

Marilou takes off her own history from there. She came to North America in 1968 to study in Chicago and later moved to Seattle. She reveals that having left the Philippines, she had begun to think of her being a Filipino.  “When you leave family, you begin to have a sense of who you are. But when you’re young, it’s so easy to be Americanized,” she says.

But that winter she had bought her first coat, the mirror which reflected such self-image cracked the first time. She recalls, “This woman, a saleslady, looks at me and asks, ‘Do you have money?’ I told her I have enough. And then it struck me why she asked so I turned around and left.” 

That would not be the last experience that made her aware of who she really is in terms of how other races but especially the white race “labeled” her. Those five years she lived and worked in Venezuela allowed her “to rethink my frame of reference. I’m simply not a ‘Gringo’.” 

Marilou’s volunteer work with Amnesty International, where she spent her energy helping other peoples to regain their rights, drew her closer into what she would later take on. She was with the National Board of the Canada Section by the time she left the organization, saying she “outgrew Amnesty International with its strict mandate.” More possibly, her work reflected Filipino issues groaning to be met and her thoughts began veering this way: “Yes, it is important to work in solidarity but why am I not working for my own people?” By then she has also joined the BC Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines and the Philippine Women’s Center. 

In Vancouver, “a number of situations” kept snagging her focus: first, the Vietnamese or “the boat people”—so called because of their history or how they escaped turmoil in their country by scrambling onto boats. She says, “I had wondered then, what it is like to be transplanted.” 

Next, she saw “more migration waves” at her position in the Vancouver School Board as speech pathologist and her work with a children’s hospital. She remembers how they inundated the schools like flood—after the boat people, the Iranians, Africans, Indians and then, the Filipinos. In the last ten years, there has been an influx of Filipino children because of the Live-in Caregiver program.

Against this mosaic of races, Marilou experienced what seemed like a more intense scrutiny; she would be asked, “Where are you from?” Caught off guard, she would answer, “From Vancouver.” It would prove to be an unsatisfactory answer and she would be dismissed as “one of those” because “some of us are darker than others.”

She reveals that even in social gatherings since the LCP, her presence often stirs guarded hostility or uneasiness among guests especially if married to a caregiver. It is nothing new to Marilou—early on in her becoming an immigrant, she was looked on as a “nurse”, that is way back when the influx of Filipino immigrants were nurses. She says, “I realized that my identity is the history of our migration.”

The arrival of the live-in caregiver intensified Marilou’s weighing of factors around her identity not as a given of her race but by those around her. First, the issue is gender based because the work of the caregiver frees another woman, a white woman, to work for her independence and contribute to the economy both of the household and the government. Second, the issue is contradictory in the sense that Filipino women leave their own homes to do domestic chores—a role she played as a principal in her own home—to earn a wage in another country which in turn denigrates such role into a subordinate one—“the brown woman, doing low-wage jobs.” And both women “are fueling enterprises of globalization,” serving a hierarchy of economic policies formulated by men.

Marilou recalls how she literally woke up one morning and decided that the Philippine Women’s Center needs an academic degree where knowledge and discourse is patterned, where credibility is sourced. Her passion flared not just for the study but on issues Filipino women in the countries they now serve as domestic workers have unmasked to the world—“tear-jerkers scenarios” as some commentaries labeled often oppressive working conditions. Thus, in consultations with Filipino women, Marilou began to work on her thesis.

Will change ever happen? Marilou answers with an unequivocal, “Yes!” She believes “there will come a point when social change happens, when a synchronicity of factors come about.” And this is where the seed which the “Socially Transformative Transnational Feminism” of the Filipina Activist proves crucial.