Canada Labor Lawyer
December 17, 2004 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Someone I know is being exploited. What can I do? [+]

My good friend is works as an occasional babysitter for an affluent couple. Through that job, she has come to know a young woman (20 years old) who is employed by this couple as a caretaker for their three infants. They have "imported" her, so to speak, from a country in Latin America. They pay her $200 CDN a month. They promised her a salary of $800, but they are "putting aside" 600 every month for her. They promised her vacations, English lessons, and tours of the country. She has not had a single day off in six months. She works about 16 hours a day. She does not speak English. She sends most of her money to her family. She was forced to pay out of her own salary for her bed, which is in the laundry room.

The couple is very affluent. They are both (the irony!) doctors.

My friend has very little time to speak with this girl in private. A letter might be possible, but there is a strong risk it will get caught.

I feel enraged and helpless. This is in Canada, by the way.

What can I do? The gut instinct, of course, is to report it -- but maybe the girl will simply be sent back to a crappy life Colombia? Is there any other prudent alternative? Any agency that could intervene?

If I do report it, will it actually do anything? wouldn't it be the babysitter's word against two doctors'?
posted by ori to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think your friend should contact an immigrants' rights organization (perhaps No One Is Illegal/Vancouver) and bring the matter to their attention, laying out the various concerns your friend has shared about her co-worker's situation. They should have some suggestions about next steps.

Good luck to your friend.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:23 PM on December 17, 2004

Here's an email contact for No One Is Illegal/Vancouver, which appears to be part of the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group.

Here's the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia.

And this page has information on Legal Aid groups and other resources.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:44 PM on December 17, 2004

Toronto Organization for Domestic Workers' Rights (Intercede). - Maybe they can refer your friend to local help and/or provide some information in her language about her rights as a foreign domestic worker.
posted by PY at 8:44 PM on December 17, 2004

Contact a lawyer familiar with Canada Labour Standards Regulations. Expose the bastards to the media. Find the lass another gig. All of these answers.

You could play the sanitary angle: her living quarters are sub-par, which is a hazard to her health... something physicians (I'm assuming they are M.D., you didn't say) should definitely be aware of.

Anyway, good luck to your friend!
posted by Non Serviam at 8:46 PM on December 17, 2004

I would find out what options she has before reporting anything. If you report this she will more than likely be deported. Its seems to me a sad case of damned if do, damned if you don't. I would get in touch with "the people's law school", maybe try "DERA" (downtown east side association) though their mandate is geared towards the east side they might be able to help you. Come to think of it the best thing would be to call the Vancouver Crisis Line and ask them for a list of resources (they'll have a directory called the "red book" that lists resources for social issues, like immigration, health etc). Sorry I can't be more specific but my area of expertise was mental health.
posted by squeak at 8:49 PM on December 17, 2004

West Coast Domestic Workers is based in Vancouver and has employment/immigration rights pages with answers to questions.
posted by PY at 8:57 PM on December 17, 2004

(Disclaimer: American perspective)
If her situation gets the government's attention, she will almost certainly get deported. And, depending on her determination, she will find a way to get back to Canada. I suggest that she get in contact with her larger Columbian community (via yourself or your friend if she is so cut off--yes, this isn't the most legal option). Most larger immigrant groups have an entire network of support for illegals that can help her find temporary shelter and work. (Note: these communities, like all others, also have their share of predators who will prey on her weakened status.)

Forget the money, forget the law. Coming from a family of illegal immigrants, I'd say do whatever you can to keep her in the country. There are always yuppie families eager for cheap childcare. This may not jibe with your personal morals though, and if that is the case, go with the non-profit groups sympathetic to the immigrant plight.

Sidenote: A classmate once showed my anthropology class a video project of her family and the "wonderful" girls who they had paid to be brought from Latin America. They were like "part of the family", though they had to work for their keep, of course. It was one of those WTF moments where I realized that there is a part of America that is still stuck in the pre-Civil rights era mind-set, and that I could never comprehend their POV.
posted by lychee at 1:50 AM on December 18, 2004

If they already have this girl, why do they need your friend to babysit?
posted by konolia at 5:46 AM on December 18, 2004

That is, since they are exploiting the young woman in this manner...not trying to imply that I condone it.
posted by konolia at 5:47 AM on December 18, 2004

You didn't actually say that this person is an illegal. She may be in the country completely legally, in which case she probably has a great deal of recourse and may also be able to find work with another family who will sponsor her.
posted by spaghetti at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2004


I doubt there is anything you could do that would not make the situation worse other than to find her another job.

If your friend babysits, how is it she cannot talk with the caretaker in private?
posted by xammerboy at 8:21 AM on December 18, 2004

I hope you can expose the family to the media. They deserve community censure.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 AM on December 18, 2004

Post their names and address here and I will ask them what the deal is.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:15 AM on December 18, 2004

Rob them blind.
posted by jackofsaxons at 12:57 PM on December 18, 2004

I hope you can expose the family to the media. They deserve community censure.

I agree but ... big but, my initial thoughts on this were to think of the woman involved and not the "employers". As much as it bothers me (oh how I despise people being taken advantage of) I was thinking more of the fallout for the women in question.

Lot to be said for media attention but will it help this woman? She doesn't speak English, I highly doubt she has a work permit to be here, I don't think she would qualify for one since she doesn't speak English (yes, I am going out on a limb and maybe she speaks fluent French) I have a sneaking suspicion because of the information given she is here illegally and if attention is called to that fact she will be deported and maybe the employers will be censured in some way. Does this woman want to be a part of a media frenzy and be the cause de celeb? Will she gain anything or will she be booted from the country? Will she be willing, for instance, to live in a church for X amount of time until they let her stay? Will there be a church that is willing to do this for her?

My view is to find out if she has any recourse by digging up as much information/resources as possible before anything is decided on and more importantly it is her choice no matter how uncomfortable it makes anyone else feel.

My gut feeling on this is she is screwed and most of the services (employment standards etc) the rest of us can rely on wont apply to her because she is here illegally. Perhaps with some information digging you can find a solution, I do hope it turns out for the better.
posted by squeak at 1:23 PM on December 18, 2004

One last thought - I think.

I would find out if she qualifies for a work permit and if she does get her to get one then go after the employer . But (me with my "buts") will doing this make the employer treat her fairly or will they just fire her?
posted by squeak at 1:29 PM on December 18, 2004

This site on Canada's Live-in Caregiver Program may have some relevant information to the woman's situation. From the section on work permits:

You are authorized to work only for the employer named on your permit. However, this does not mean you cannot change employers for personal or other reasons. Both you and your employer should be aware that you are free to change employers while in Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will not deport you for looking for another place to work. You must have received a new work permit before you begin working for a new employer (see "Changing jobs").

Given that this program "exists only because there is a shortage of Canadians or permanent residents to fill the need for live-in care work," maybe she has a realistic shot at getting a better live-in job elsewhere, if someone can help her with the process of looking and applying for the new permit.

This option assumes a work permit.
posted by PY at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2004

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