In this phase of Ontario’s exemption review, only eight occupations are being considered: architects, homemakers, domestic workers, residential care workers, IT professionals, managers and supervisors, pharmacists, and superintendents. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change endorses the submissions made by the Workers’ Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services. These submissions will focus on Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers, as these sectors impact most upon migrant worker labour.
Domestic Workers do the critical work of caring for children, persons with disabilities and older persons. The caregiving sector is reliant on the work of migrant workers, primarily women, who risk their jobs and their hopes of permanent residence in Canada if they complain about violations of their rights. This workforce is overwhelmingly female, racialized, poorly paid and highly precarious. Domestic workers include people with and without regularized immigration status and migrant workers employed through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The caregiving sector is rife with abuses ranging from unpaid overtime to sexual abuse and racial discrimination. Often working alone in their employer’s home, caregivers need robust employment standards protections, support for collective action to improve their conditions of work, and effective rights enforcement. Ontario’s employment and labour law regimes currently accomplish none of these things.
Domestic Workers are subject to a special minimum wage rule that allows employers to deduct room and board from wages for the purposes of determining whether minimum wage has been paid. This special minimum wage rule is inconsistent with the federal Caregiver Program policies that prohibit employers from charging room and board to live-in caregivers.
When it comes to protections for unionization, Domestic Workers working in private homes are explicitly excluded from the Labour Relations Act and collective bargaining units made up of one person are not permitted.
Caregiver work is in practice very fluid, with movement between residential care homes and live-in caregiving situations. Some are recruited into other types of care work when they experience problems in the federal Caregiver Program, for example when they fall out of status for leaving an abusive workplace and must find a way to support themselves and their families. Because of this fluidity, migrant caregivers are also impacted by two other sectors under review: homemakers and residential care workers.
Caregivers who are considered “homemakers” are exempt from a litany of employment standards including daily and weekly hours of work limits, overtime, daily rest periods, eating periods and time off between shifts or work weeks. They are entitled to wages to a maximum of 12 hours per day of pay, even when they work more. A residential care worker, who cares for children or disabled persons in family-type residential dwellings, does not enjoy minimum protections for hours of work and eating periods (daily and weekly limits on hours of work, mandatory rest periods and eating periods), overtime, and the right to payment for hours worked after 12 hours per day.
None of these exemptions can be justified and we urge Ontario to eliminate them. Instead, Ontario must take the necessary steps to ensure that caregiving work is free of exploitation and abuse, including by implementing the kinds of “broader based bargaining” strategies that would make collective action and worker power a reality for caregivers.
In the next phases of this exemption review, Ontario must prioritize those industries where workers are most vulnerable, including sectors that rely heavily on migrant labour. In particular, we urge Ontario to ensure that the agricultural sector is included in the next phase of the review.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL SUBMISSION HERE: MWAC Exemption Review Phase One – December 2017