No Compensation

Quebec law discriminates against domestic workers

filipinas.jpg Evelyn Calugay from PINAY at a conference for Domestic Workers’ Rights. Photo: Gabriel Robichaud.

By Miriam Caliguiran and Kezia Speirs

Domestic workers are among the only salaried workers in Quebec who aren’t eligible for worker’s compensation from the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail in case of illness or accident. There are about 25,000 domestic workers in this province, but in 2003 only 13 were covered by the CSST—and these because they paid their own premiums. The overwhelming majority of domestic workers are women, and a high percentage are immigrants.

Miriam Caliguiran is a 42-year-old domestic worker who came to Montreal from the Philippines in 2003. Like most domestic workers, she had no access to the CSST. Stories like hers are heard all too often.

When I moved in with my first employers here in Montreal in 2003, my room was in the basement and there was no ventilation at all. There was no window and it was right next to the furnace.

A few weeks later I developed a rash. It started on my neck and spread all over my body. One night I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I was hot and cold and very itchy. I tried baking soda but it didn’t work. I told my employers I developed this allergy from my room. They didn’t believe me.

I felt ashamed. I didn’t want people to get close to me because I didn’t know what I had. I had the rash for three months on and off. After I moved out, it was gone in just a few weeks. When I told my friend about it, she said she had the same problem because her room didn’t have ventilation and she had rashes, but not as bad as mine.

I went to a doctor and he said I had to find another job. I told the agency, and when my employers heard that they got madder at me. One day they gave me a week’s vacation because they said they were going to Florida.

But one of my friends called me up, and they were at home. I was surprised that they weren’t on vacation as they had told me. The fact is that they already hired somebody for a tryout. They called to say I didn’t need to report on Monday but instead pick up my belongings. They just gave me one week’s salary and that’s all they said.

When I filed a complaint with the CSST, they told me that I wasn’t covered because I was under the domestic category. I was upset because I couldn’t find a job—my previous employers always gave me a bad reference. So I was really struggling financially for a few months without any income. I am a single mother of three children.

I want to address the CSST: I believe we have the right and privilege to get benefits, and I hope they’re going to avoid racial discrimination. Domestic work is not an easy job. It’s really hard. I feel so upset because it’s like I’m not a human being. They treated me unfairly—I want justice. I don’t want it to happen to other Filipinas.

The denial of CSST to domestic workers is based on several arguments:

Claim 1: Domestic work is not hazardous.
Fact: Like all workers, domestic workers face physical and psychological health risks at work.
Claim 2: Domestic workers must pay their own premiums because they are autonomous workers.
Fact: Many domestic workers do not fit the criteria for autonomous workers since most do not control their own hours.
Claim 3: Private individuals can’t be considered employers and homes can’t be “places of employment.”
Fact: This problem has been resolved in BC, Ontario, Manitoba, Yukon and NWT.

Three organizations have launched a campaign to address this issue:
- Pinay (Filipino Women’s Organisation of Quebec) 514-364-9833
- Immigrant Workers’ Centre 514-342-2111
- L’Association des aides familiales du Québec 514-272-2670