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Migrant Home Care Workers in Manitoba: An Invisible and Critically Underserved Pillar of Manitoba’s Pandemic Response

By Mary Jean Hande (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia), Leah Nicholson (Mount Saint Vincent University), Mehmet Yavuz (University of Manitoba), Diwa Marcelino and Susan Rodriguez (Migrante Manitoba)

The need for expanded home care services in Manitoba has never been more important, but (im)migrant home care workers lack critical supports. The Canadian province of Manitoba is unique within Canadian immigration and health policy. It was the first to implement legislation protecting migrant workers in 2009, and it has the oldest, and perhaps best-developed, publicly-funded, unionized home care program in the country. However, according to race-based data collected by the Manitoba government during the pandemic, (im)migrant workers (namely Filipinos) were the most impacted community in Manitoba, with more than 12% of the COVID-19 cases. Our nationally funded research project, Migrant Care Work and the Geopolitics of ‘Aging in Place’ During the COVID-19 Pandemic, collaborates with the migrant justice organization Migrante Manitoba to identify key policy issues impacting Manitoba-based (im)migrant home care workers and documents their experiences providing essential, direct care services to older people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our early research shows that Manitoba has insufficient settlement infrastructure and (im)migrant home care workers continue to struggle with precarious employment and immigration status, putting them at higher risk of poverty and COVID-19 infections during the pandemic. At the time of writing, we have interviewed 19 (im)migrant care workers from Chile, Guinea, India, the Philippines, and Sudan with a variety of immigration statuses and employment contracts. Five key informants representing professionals and organizations that regularly serve Manitoba’s migrant workers were also interviewed to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of existing networks and organizational supports for these workers in the province.

These interviews revealed how (im)migrant home care workers’ labour has intensified during the pandemic both because of labour shortages and workers’ need to juggle multiple jobs in an uncertain, fragmented job market. For example, 90% of the workers we interviewed were juggling at least two jobs throughout the pandemic. Although some of the workers were unionized, those who were not unionized often did not have formal employment contracts outlining a clear scope of duties, regular schedules or hours. Most workers did not receive breaks, sick days, or vacation time.

Insufficient settlement infrastructure and migrant support networks to serve Manitoba-based (im)migrant workers have placed a heavy burden on un(der)funded community-based organizations to pick up the slack to support (im)migrant workers in crisis during the pandemic. These strained supports sometimes have stark consequences for precarious (im)migrant home care workers, who often work in isolation behind the closed doors of their clients’ homes.

Our policy analysis underscored how Manitoba’s COVID-19 policy responses are misaligned with the realities of these workers. Programs such as paid sick leave or wage top-up policies have directly or indirectly excluded most (im)migrant home care workers, and there is a lack of mechanisms to hold employers and government accountable when they fail to meet these workers’ needs. For example, Manitoba’s Caregiver Wage Support Program, which offered a limited-time $5/hr wage top-up to care workers, excluded those working in private homes, where many (im)migrant care workers are employed. Additionally, the Manitoba Paid Sick Leave program is entirely voluntary for employers. Policies like this place the onus on workers with precarious employment and immigration statuses to negotiate with employers and government offices about policies that were not designed with them in mind. This significantly limits uptake with vulnerable workers who need this pay the most.

The devastating death toll in Canada’s residential care homes has underscored the importance of expanding home care services. Manitoban home care users and the (im)migrant workers who support them to stay at home all need sustainable supports and protection for these services to be viable alternatives to institutional care. For (im)migrant home care workers, such supports include living wages, paid sick leave and time off, permanent resident status, universal health care, and safe and rewarding working conditions. We are currently preparing reports, policy briefs, workshops, and other presentations to help migrant justice groups, settlement organizations and policymakers to improve COVID policy responses and the home care work landscape in Manitoba in general.

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