Tuesday, July 14, 2020 03:18

Employers worry some use caregiver program as front to enter Canada

Employers worry some use caregiver program as front to enter Canada

Sunday, Feb 27, 2011 09:45 am | Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press

Manuela Gruber Hersch is shown in a handout photo. Gruber Hersch, who came to Canada as a caregiver years ago and now runs her own nanny recruiting agency, has set up a phone line where employers and caregivers can air their grievances. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO – Caje Fernandes feels cheated by the system.

The father of two preschoolers in Pickering, Ont., was left scrambling for alternatives after the live-in caregiver he sponsored into the country from Hong Kong walked out just three months into her two-year contract.

It’s not so much the fact she left that irks Fernandes. It’s how she did it.

“She came here with a motive,” he says, frustrated. “We were used.”

Fernandes, 45, believes new federal regulations introduced last April have left Canadian employers more vulnerable to a relative handful of unscrupulous individuals who are using the caregiver program as a front to enter the country.

His nanny said she knew no one in Canada, which is why Fernandes was shocked to encounter a group of strangers at his door, claiming to be her relatives. They accused him of abuse and demanded she leave with them.

The situation ended with police in his hallway, asking his nanny if she had been mistreated.

“I told the cops, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,'” says Fernandes. “I didn’t want these problems, I’ve got two little kids.”

His caregiver left a week later after her “relatives” showed up again. When Fernandes complained to immigration authorities and his MP, he was told it was between him and his caregiver.

“The sad thing is, bad people can get away with this,” he said. “The government is doing nothing.”

Confronted with an aging population and the soaring cost of daycare, Canadians who need help caring for their loved ones are turning more and more to the live-in caregiver program, which has its own specialized category within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The caregiver program can lead to permanent residence for applicants who successfully complete 24 months or a total of 3,900 hours of authorized full-time employment.

The changes made by the Conservative government last year shifted more financial responsibility onto would-be employers to improve protections for caregivers.

As a result, employers are now required to pay for a caregiver’s medical coverage, airfare, recruitment fees and health insurance — the bill usually totals between $3,000 to $4,000 — and agree to a contract outlining clear overtime provisions.

Successful applicants get a four-year work visa, but have no legal obligation to remain with the family that brought them in.

The changes were introduced in the wake of several high-profile cases of alleged caregiver abuse, including one where two nannies hired by federal MP Ruby Dhalla complained their passports had been seized and they were not paid.

There’s nothing wrong with the government safeguarding the rights of caregivers, but their prospective employers deserve some measure of protection as well, Fernandes argues.

It’s stories like his that Manuela Gruber Hersch is trying to bring to light.

The director of the Association of Nanny and Caregiver Agencies (ACNA) says employers are growing increasingly concerned about the risk of being duped.

“People are more and more upset now, because not only is it emotional exploitation, it’s financial exploitation as well.”

Gruber Hersch, who came to Canada as a caregiver years ago and now runs her own nanny recruiting agency, has set up a phone line where employers and caregivers can air their grievances.

Employer complaints range from caregivers leaving within two weeks to find jobs in cities where they have family, to some who never show up for work at all, she says.

But while their frustration is clear, Gruber Hersch says she’s struggling to avoid being seen as the villain in her appeals to the government to improve the system.

“We’re totally against any exploitation and abuse of live-in caregivers,” she says. “But we also need balance for families.”

The Conservative government, however, has made its position abundantly clear.

“I understand that there are some well-funded pressure groups trying to portray live-in caregivers as frauds, as criminals out to game our immigration system,” said Alykhan Velshi, spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

“We reject their vitriol absolutely. Their charges are offensive.”

While Kenney’s office acknowledges the frustrations of an employer like Fernandes, it says they need to be balanced against the interests of caregivers, who require a degree of mobility within the Canadian labour market.

“This is an essential element in reducing the potential for caregivers to be subject to abuse by their employers,” Velshi said.

Statistics provided by Kenney’s office indicate more than 90 per cent of live-in caregivers eventually apply for permanent residence; of that number, approximately 98 per cent of applications are approved.

“Clearly, the vast majority of caregivers are committed to living up to their responsibilities under their employment contract and our immigration law,” Velshi said.

But Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau says the Tory government shouldn’t blatantly ignore the concerns of Canadian employers.

“It becomes our responsibility to make sure people who come here are not being exploited; however, the changes, on the other hand, mean that Canadian families are assuming a very high degree of risk in terms of whether or not the caregiver will stay with them,” Trudeau said.

The emotional duress faced by an abused caregiver can’t compare to the financial stress and inconvenience of an employer who’s left in the lurch, Trudeau stressed.

But as Canadians grow ever more desperate for in-home care, they face a growing risk themselves, he says.

“This government has allowed people to get to the point where one of their only options is (the live-in caregiver program), and because of that there is a larger vulnerability,” Trudeau said.

Presently, a live-in caregiver enters the country with the name of their employer stamped on their work permit. If a caregiver changes jobs, they need to reapply for a work permit, which will then carry the name of their new employer.

It’s a fairly simple process designed to allow caregivers to leave abusive workplaces with ease. But, Gruber Hersch points out, it also allows less scrupulous individuals to hang honest employers out to dry.

“To be honest, the live-in caregiver group needs to be revamped from top to bottom.”

On that point at least, Gruber Hersch and a number of caregivers agree.

The program could always use improvement, said Terry Olayta, a 58-year-old former caregiver who now runs the Caregivers Resource Centre in Toronto. Caregivers, employers and the government need to sit down and hammer out a solution, she said.

But many of the recent complaints about dishonest caregivers are being fuelled by disgruntled recruiting agencies, which can no longer charge foreign workers to come to Canada, Olayta added.

To complicate matters further, caregivers still have to beware scammers overseas who overcharge workers desperately seeking a better life in Canada.

“Between the employer and the caregiver, it’s the caregivers who are the most vulnerable,” she said. “Our position is to protect what little gains we’ve had.”

Post to Twitter