Human Rights Day: Canada must ratify C-189 to protect vulnerable domestic workers

December 10, 2021 at 5:00 am  Labour

Canada’s unions are marking International Human Rights Day by renewing their call on the federal government to ratify ILO Convention 189 (C-189). This important convention recognizes and protects the rights of domestic workers.

“This year marks ten years since the adoption of C-189, an historic convention which confirms the labour rights of domestic workers. And yet, a decade on, domestic workers in Canada continue to experience barriers to accessing and receiving the services and protections they need,” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “Domestic workers were already fighting for equality and the right to decent work before the pandemic, and the situation has only gotten more dismal since then, as we’ve seen a marked increase in inequities and injustices.”

Prior to the pandemic, domestic care workers were already an indispensable part of Canada’s care economy, providing invaluable care and support to our families and communities. Through every wave of the pandemic, the care labour provided by domestic workers has intensified and increased, yet these workers are still highly undervalued, underpaid and at risk of mistreatment and exploitation.

“Without ratification and implementation of C-189, migrant care workers remain vulnerable to exploitation, wage theft, violence, harassment and significant economic and social precarity. Its ratification would go a long way toward addressing the vulnerability of these workers and would protect their human rights,” said Siobhán Vipond, CLC Executive Vice-President.

ILO Convention 189 ensures that domestic workers have the rights and protections they need to continue the vital work they have been doing to keep our families and communities afloat, both before and during the pandemic.

A large number of domestic workers are migrant and non-status racialized women, and face barriers to decent work and protections due to immigration status and systemic racism. There are approximately 25,000 migrant caregivers in Canada, and one in three care workers lost their jobs during the pandemic, either temporarily or permanently. Most of these migrant care workers are working on closed work permits, which tie them to one employer and bar them from job mobility and security. Canada’s immigration rules prevent these workers from finding employment elsewhere, and from advancing on the path to permanent residency. For those migrant workers who were live-in caregivers, this loss of employment also meant a loss of housing – an additional barrier to their safety and wellbeing.

Canada’s unions continue to urge the federal government to address this issue by offering pathways to permanent residency to all migrant workers, which would provide them with access to the government supports and labour protections they require.

Domestic workers have waited long enough for their rights to be recognized and respected. It’s past time for Canada to ratify Convention 189 and ensure decent work for these essential and skilled workers.

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