Achieving national childcare: A progressive Filipino Canadian women’s perspective

The recently reformed Canada’s Caregiver Program, previously called the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), is part of Canada’s long history of recruiting racialized women as indentured and cheap labour from Third World countries to fill Canada’s childcare needs.

Since the establishment of Canada as a confederation, and its expansion geographically and economically, childcare has always been in demand and has historically been relegated to women. Filipino Canadian women’s history of migration to Canada has largely been shaped by these labour needs and gendered labour divisions. The 2013 report from Citizenship & Immigration Canada confirms that Filipino women make up 65% of participants coming through the Temporary Work Stream of the Caregiver Program. But their experiences are continuously marked by racism, violence, and exploitation, preserved by Canada’s history of recruiting racialized women from which domestic work programs like the Caregiver Program originate from.

During the 1950s, as an economic necessity to fill childcare and domestic labour needs, Canada was forced to reevaluate their racist immigration policies in order to recruit Black women from the Caribbean islands into domestic work. Canada was able to implement a bilateral agreement with Caribbean countries that allowed Canada to establish the West Indian Domestic Scheme in 1955. Many well educated Caribbean women came through this employer sponsored program, lured by the possibility of becoming permanent immigrants. The government’s satisfaction with the program was plainly stated: Caribbean women, not only worked for lower than minimum wages, but they would also not be able to find opportunity in Canada outside of domestic service. In reality, Canada had long established the systemic subordination of Black women even after slavery was officially abolished in North America. This program would only perpetuate the slavery of women in its new form via international trade agreements, championed by the emergence of globalization. In the end, Canada’s labour force, structured by racism, classism and gender oppression, is what would continue to prevent Black women from participating in anything outside of domestic work.

Since the West Indian Domestic Scheme, the government reformed and renamed this model as the Foreign Domestic Movement in 1982, recruiting mostly Filipino and Caribbean women. Its successor, the Live-in Caregiver Program in 1992, and now, Canada’s Caregiver Program, have continued to target Filipino women more specifically. The nature of the program leaves the workers at the disposal and whim of their employers. This is what appeases the middle and upper class Canadian families who can afford to employ a domestic worker, but at the expense of racialized women from Third World countries. Over 100,000 Filipino women have come in as domestic workers since the 1980s, and the government has continued to rely on the Caregiver Program as its defacto childcare program.

The new changes to Canada’s current Caregiver Program stipulate, once again, definite barriers to a particular group of women’s development and genuine settlement into Canadian society. Touted as improvements towards permanent residency, the revised qualifications now require those in the program to apply under one of two streams: Caring for Children Pathway or Caring for People with High Medical Needs Pathway. They are also required to complete 1–2 years of post-secondary education in Canada. In addition, the government has capped the application for permanent residency at 2,750 for each stream. These changes mark a blatant move to perpetuate the temporary status of Filipino women in Canada. Moreover, they are not guaranteed to be approved. The post-secondary requirement only serves to further filter the amount of approved applications. Women under this program who only earn minimum wage will send their money to support their own families. With their schedule remaining dependent on their employer, it is inevitably difficult for women to attend classes, let alone pay for ever-increasing tuition fees for post-secondary education. What remains clear is that Canada continues to economically benefit from recruiting a pool of well educated, highly skilled women from Third World countries as cheap labour to meet the childcare needs for middle and upper class families.

In our struggle toward a genuine child care solution inclusive and accessible to everyone in Canada, the government continually fails to meet these demands time and time again. Instead, they choose to roll out childcare tax deductions and subsidies such as the recent upgrade of the Federal government’s Universal Child Care Benefit, that do not make a difference in providing accessible public childcare for everyone. These reforms do not reflect the everyday realities or needs of working families in Canada. Genuine childcare in Canada should come from the needs of the most marginalized communities. The violence and exploitation that women in our community experience under the Caregiver Program, along with the struggle to take care of our children highlight the fundamental problem of Canada’s Caregiver Program; as working women of colour continue to provide care but cannot find care for their own children, the Caregiver Program impedes the calls for national childcare and women’s overall struggle for equal rights within Canadian society. At the very least, the need to eliminate the Caregiver Program is a radical stance to dismantle successive programs built on the legacy of slavery and the subordination of racialized women. It opens up the possibilities of building genuine structures that support the development of all women and the full potential of the next generations.

Originally published in Counterspin (April 2015 Edition), the official newsletter of the Magkaisa Centre.

**Banner illustration by: Kim Villagante

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