The recent investigative series in The Toronto Star sheds light to the often illegal practices of hiring and exploitative working conditions of foreign ‘nannies’ in Canada. Part 1 details how nannies are lured into and trapped in bogus jobs or forced to work illegally while living and working in unacceptable conditions. According to the Star, “the popular federal Live-In Caregiver Program has become a nanny trap.” One Filipina caregiver recounts how her passport was taken away by a Toronto recruiter and how she ended up with 16 other unemployed Filipina caregivers sleeping on the floor of the recruiter’s basement “in custody, detention, imprisonment and incarceration, without proper food … harassed, frightened, scared.” Part 2 reveals how federal agencies fail to protect foreign caregivers. It seems there are serious gaps and sloppy practices in the two federal departments who are supposed to be overseeing the Live-in Caregiver Program. The Star notes that ” federal offices have made questionable approvals of applications from nanny recruitment agencies.” What the two-part series doesn’t discuss are the reasons why Filipina women are compelled to leave their homes, families and country behind.

An article by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (the current chair of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues) sheds light to some of the possible reasons. Her article “Globalization and its impacts on indigenous women: The Philippine case,” details the consequences of World Bank Structural Adjustment Program policies on indigenous women in her country. Especially the liberalization of agriculture has resulted in aggressive forms of cash crop production which has had severe impacts on indigenous women, the majority of whom continue to be engaged in subsistence food production. The cash crop production directly affects the land tenure and production by indigenous peoples who are unable to compete with imported crops.

The WTO trade agreements drive countries to produce agricultural exports rather than food for local consumption. This requires concentration of land ownership and production capacity to the hands of few large agribusinesses and landowners. This leaves “hundreds of thousands of indigenous peasant women insecure over their rights to their ancestral lands.” It also threatens local food security, increases health risks and further degrades the environment. Cash crops require large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers.

Tauli-Corpuz maintains that “The most significant effect of globalization on indigenous women is the significant shift from subsistence production to the production of cash crops. … Indigenous methods of production and resource management are considered inefficient and backward by the global market economy whose mantra is global competitiveness and comparative advantage. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous women will have to abandon their sustainable agricultural and resource management practices.”

She continues: “The displacement from the rural areas has brought women to the urban centres and most of them end up with the urban poor in the slum areas. A great bulk of these women also have applied for overseas contract work.”

The statistics the article offers are dated but they provide a sobering picture of the abuse and violence overseas contract workers are faced with. “According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Association, within 1996, 105 overseas contract workers died outside of the Philippines, 49 came home mentally ill, and 62 came home with various physical disabilities.”

In short, the displacement and exploitation of indigenous women that starts in the Philippines only continues in countries like Canada, without much government oversight.


3 thoughts on “Why Filipina caregivers leave overseas?

  1. Hello Rauna,

    I came to visit ‘you’ today and found your mother’s wonderful website! How stunning! I left a comment there.

    The situation of the Philippina caregivers is certainly part of the problem of neoliberal global capitalism in that no one, no ministry, no minister, no policies, are held responsible for these unjust and unequal transnational arrangements of power that so severely impact on women such as those from the Philippines and other countries forced to pay the price of SAPS so dearly. Our country, in its entrenching of neoliberalism is a willing partner globally to create these exploitative conditions. Kudos for the Toronto Star reporter to investigate and write about this long-standing problem. This is not a new issue, so why isn’t our government fixing our policies? Obviously, no political will because there are benefits that are gleaned.

    I have been reading and discussing with family members the situation of domestic workers in the Middle East. Their situation in most ME countries is horrible. In Lebanon, for example, there were almost 100 deaths of migrant domestic workers within 9 months, most were killed, some committed suicide due to terrible conditions.

    The Phillipina women who had gone to Lebanon to work, (they are not the majority of workers, as most are from Sri Lanka or Ethiopia), issued a warning to their country women. .

    Also, if you are interested, you can watch a film clip about the dire state of affairs of domestic workers in the ME in this clip of a film in which the director shows the transnational economic links between countries that turn a blind eye to abuse, fail to legislate policy, etc:


  2. Thank you Taina for these links. I also recently read about the domestic caregivers in the Middle East and it’s the same story. Women and women’s domestic labour are being exploited everywhere and often is also sanctioned.

    As a follow-up to the Ontario story, it’s the usual federal-provincial finger pointing scene. Ontario’s labour minister Fonseca refuses to take responsibility and blames the federal government. Meanwhile, according to the Toronto Star (March 22), “A senior official [at the Canada Border Services Agency] said that while officers are aware of unscrupulous conduct by many agencies, they have been largely ignored.”

    Interestingly, “Ontario has licensed nanny recruiters in the past, but the practice was stopped in 2001 when the Mike Harris Conservatives deregulated temporary employment agencies.” Yet another example of how deregulation affects disproportionately women and makes the more vulnerable for exploitation. It is scary to even think Mike Harris might be trying a come-back.

  3. I alternate between feeling outraged and despondent about the increasing neo-fascism of Canada. Or maybe all these vile stuff was always there but now it is just more clearly in our face.

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