OFW Stories from Our Community | Hessed Torres
For those who are planning to leave the Philippines to become domestic employees, this post may be what you need to read in order to prepare for life abroad. It’s the real deal– the gist on life in Canada (and other parts of the world). I am given permission tell you these stories on behalf of my friends here, not to scare you, but to give you a clear view on what kind of life you are about to face as a migrant worker. Their names have been changed for privacy.
These strong women are living examples of the rampant cycle of forced migration as a result of large-scale capitalism and imperialism. The end-result of migration are: inevitable isolation, homesickness, loneliness, depression, poverty and alienation on foreign soil. Most importantly, this form of employment potentially leads to broken homes back in the motherland. There are more repercussions but these are just some of the major things that are happening to migrant Filipinos.
“Loisa” works in an affluent neighborhood near White Rock. She is a woman in her early thirties and she carries an unassuming demeanor that I admire so much. I once saw her inside the bus but I didn’t get a chance to talk to her. I knew she was a Filipino. (You can usually tell who is a Filipino and who is not.) The second time I saw her was when we were both walking down the road. She was on her way home and I was just about to catch my 2:30 bus. I braved saying hi and introduced myself. She smiled and spoke Tagalog to me right away. We exchanged numbers and went our way.
Later on, I learned that she was an engineer in the Philippines. However, here in Canada she is a dog-walker and housekeeper for a private employer. She told me that after graduating, she had a difficult time finding a decent-paying job. She opted to take a 6-month caregiver course and found herself an employer in Canada so that she can support her parents and siblings back home.
She said that if there had only been a well-paying job for her, she would have never left the Philippines. Giving up her potential career in engineering was the hardest thing Loisa did. I saw her eyes fixate and turn glassy; she was holding back her tears. “Nami-miss ko parents ko at saka mag-celebrate ng Pasko sa Pilipinas.” she says. “I miss my parents and celebrating Christmas in the Philippines.”
Trusted Mother, Trusted Banker
Before “Marissa” migrated to Canada, she had been working as a trusted top banker in one of Philippines’ premiere financial institution. She mentioned that she never really intended to go abroad but felt compelled to because of the rising tuition fees and living expenses in the country. She has four children: two are in college and the other 2 are in high school.
Marissa has expressed the pressure that her husband has put on her lately. Her spouse is requesting her to go back home but Marissa insists that she should stay and finish her two-year agreement so that she can qualify to become a permanent resident. Marissa constantly expresses her wish of going back to Manila but dismisses the thought once tuition fee talks are brought up.
Coming from a financial institution, Marissa never thought she would end up as a housekeeper/nanny for someone else’s children. She struggles to find words as tears start falling down uncontrollably. She says that she has lost an immense sense of pride and dignity. She currently holds a bachelor’s degree in business management. “Minsan, hindi ko din masikmura yung ginagawa ko. Wala naman yun sa kontrata pero wala kang magawa kapag sinabihan ka na gawin mo. Makikisama ka. Yung status kasi ng caregiver dito, nakatali sa employer mo,” Marissa expresses. “Sometimes, I can’t tolerate the job that they are asking me to do. You need to get along with them. It isn’t in the contract but you can’t complain because your caregiver status is tied to your employer.”
This sentiment is shared by all caregivers in Canada. Most of these workers hardly complain to their employers because they do not want to risk ruining the working relationship, specially for those under the live-in status. Also, if things get sour and the caregiver wants to switch employers, there will be a 4-5 month waiting time for another work permit that would allow them to work legally for their prospective employer. “Sayang lang yung oras ko. Magtitiis na lang muna ako kesa matagalan pa ko dito,” Marissa says. “I don’t want to waste my time waiting. I’ll just stick it out instead of prolonging the situation.”
Just recently, Marissa had been released by her employer. The employment contract had to be cut because the employers could not afford to keep her any longer. Marissa is struggling to find a new employer with the imminent risk of deportation later on if she is does not find new work.
“Dana” was exuberant when she finally got her Canadian visa to work as a nanny in Vancouver. She was happily received by her employers. But as the weeks progressed, she noticed a pattern in her working hours and duties. She is being asked to cook like a professional chef and serve her employers’ guests instead of focusing on being a nanny for the children. She wakes up at 5:30 in the morning to start cooking congee for breakfast and ends at around 10:00 PM after putting the children to sleep.
When presented with her very first pay stub, she was only paid 8 hours of work despite working 16 hours a day. Dana expresses her frustration, “Hindi ako makapaniwala na ganito din pala ang kababagsakan ko dito sa Canada. Parang nasa Hong Kong lang din ako.” “I can’t believe this is what I ended up doing in Canada. It’s just like being in Hong Kong.”
Domestic workers from Hong Kong all have expressed their sentiments about their working conditions over there. It is a known fact within the Filipino community that domestic helpers there are constantly abused, overworked and underpaid. Some have suffered severe consequences when they have tried to exercise their rights over there. That is why these group of workers aim at moving to Canada where there is supposedly stricter employment standards. Dana did not expect that she would be subjected to economic violence in Canada.
“Kung hindi lang dahil sa permanent residency, hindi ako magtatagal dito sa Canada. Grabe din pala dito,” says Dana. “If not for the permanent residency, I wouldn’t stay here in Canada. [The job] is also extreme here.”
“Susan” was a public school teacher back in Cebu, Philippines. Unlike most caregivers and nannies, she does not have a spouse or children. She is single and is very optimistic about migrating to a first-world country. When she was presented with an opportunity to go to Canada, she grabbed it never looked back.
However, when she began her work, she noticed how long the hours she was being asked to provide. Owing to the nature of her work, she is unable to leave the house in the evenings to enjoy her own time because she would still be looking after an elderly woman whose children seldom visits her. Susan has been experiencing caregiver burnout after her 6-month mark in Canada because she has not been able to take her time off.
Susan and all caregivers have experienced a loss of independence, low self-esteem and self-respect as a result of exhaustion and stingy remuneration. “Paano naman ako. Sino magaalaga sakin kung ako ang magkakasakit? Wala akong maaasahan dito kung ‘di ako lang,” she says. “What about me? Who is going to take care of me if I start getting sick? I have no one else I can depend on but myself.“
All Around Nurse
“Weng” is one of the many nurses who migrate on a daily basis. Filipino nurses make up a tremendous percentage of caregivers all over the world. Filipino nurses like Weng are desirable for employment since they are highly trained professionals who can cook, clean and keep your whole family healthy.
While Weng drives, cooks, provides caregiver services to a high-medical-needs client, she is also expected to provide full-on housekeeping on a daily basis. The situation is unfortunate for Weng who is paid the bare minimum despite being able to drive. While a citizen or permanent resident can charge CAD $17.50 per hour for this type of work, the labor policy has allowed employers to pay only CAD $10.25 to Weng and the rest of the foreign caregiver force. Where can you find a housekeeper/nurse/driver/errand runner/companion that provides services for 12 hours at only CAD $10.25 per hour? Weng confesses, too, that she is not being paid overtime.
These are just some of the many faces of migratory woes for Filipino women as a result of capitalism. This does not even cover the worst conditions of caregivers who have experienced physical and sexual abuse. We have yet to interview these other women.
The plight of the Filipino caregivers all over the world are similar to the one in Canada. The bottom line is that migrant workers, no matter where they are located, have long been suffering under a very abusive and oppressive system of immigration both in the Philippines and in its host countries. What else can be done in order to save and protect these type of workers? The majority of these are women and they provide intense physical labor across the country. What can the Philippine government do for its tax and remittance contributors?
Are they suppose to tolerate it and say that it is definitely worth getting abused just for a permanent status? The caregivers that I have spoken with are hoping for real change. They have expressed their appreciation for the generosity of Canada in opening its doors to this type of employees, but in turn for working hard, caregivers are asking for fair treatment and stricter implementation of labor standards. If conditional permanent residency is not feasible at this moment, the caregivers are open to making equally satisfactory changes for both employees and employers. “We came here to work and we work diligently. We just want to be treated fairly.” -BC Caregivers