It’s enough to make you sick...

Editorial from Issue 8

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The story of Miriam Caliguiran, who writes in issue 8's Community Focus section, is enough to make your stomach turn. A recent immigrant to Quebec employed as a domestic worker, she fell ill because of her job. After being given a week off, she returned to work to find she had been replaced. Making matters worse, as a domestic worker in Quebec, Caliguiran is not covered by the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) unless she pays the premium herself. Like many in her position, Caliguiran is a low-wage worker and is unable to afford the insurance payment. The situation of immigrant domestic workers in Quebec is troubling, and sadly they are not alone in fighting for more just working conditions.

On May 5th, Solidarity Across Borders, a Montreal coalition fighting for immigrant and refugee rights, organized a large demonstration under the slogan Immigrant Rights are Workers’ Rights: Status for All. Although the relation between immigrant rights and workers’ rights may seem like a stretch at first, the link is becoming more and more apparent.

Quebec and Canada are increasingly looking to immigrants to fulfill a wide range of jobs, from doctors to homecare workers. Quebec in particular prides itself on managing its own immigration program, setting a target of attracting 48,000 new immigrants in 2007 alone. In a recent Statistics Canada report, 84 percent of recent immigrants to Canada responded that they feel their standard of living has improved. At the same time, they cite access to employment as one of the largest barriers they continue to face.

The range of immigrants who come to Quebec each year is highly varied and diverse, but what unites many is their struggle against the harsh realities of bureaucratic and overly restrictive regulations governing access to work once they arrive. The plight of immigrant domestic workers is a glaring example of this problem.

Quebec promotes its domestic workers’ program in the Philippines under the premise of offering a route to residency and a way to send money back home. What remains unsaid, though, is that these workers will also be fulfilling a necessary job that many Quebecers refuse to take, playing an essential role in our society. While they have little to no actual control over their employment situations or the hours they must work, the province continues to refuse to recognize them as salaried workers. Instead, they are classified as autonomous workers, and are required to pay their own CSST premiums, which are normally covered by employers. The result is that, of the some 25,000 immigrant home care workers in Quebec like Caliguiran, only 13 were able to afford CSST in 2003.

Anyone who has ever done the most basic of housework or home care knows this job entails physical exertion. If office workers are considered at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, shouldn’t we recognize that someone flipping mattresses, preparing food and moving household objects could also run the risk of on-site injury?

There is a great degree of hypocrisy in attracting immigrants with the promise of work and yet not provi-ding them with the protection they need to carry out their job safely. Whether it is immigrant doctors blocked from residencies or domestic workers refused CSST, major changes must be undertaken to rectify the working conditions of immigrants in Quebec. Last fall, it was heartening to see the Quebec courts grant migrant farm workers the right to unionise. It is high time that the Quebec government moved forward as well, starting with reforming the CSST system.