In October 2007, Jocelyn Dulnuan was found dead with multiple stab wounds inside the Mississauga mansion where she worked as a live-in caretaker. She was 27 years old, a native of Ifugao province.
Jocelyn migrated through the Canadian government’s Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), a program which has been heavily criticized by groups like the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC). The group disputes investigators’ claims that Jocelyn’s death was an isolated incident, because the LCP’s restrictions put caregivers in danger. According to NAPWC executive director Cecili Diocson:
Under this program… Filipino women are allegedly forced to live in the homes of their employers for a 24-month period to perform domestic and caregiving work. . .
The intolerable violence committed against Jocelyn urges us to continue the fight to stop violence against our women and to scrap the anti-woman and racist Live-in Caregiver Program which gives the majority of our women no other choice but to enter Canada as modern-day slaves.”
The vulnerability of Filipina domestic workers to violence and abuse is also prevalent in the United States. Consider the story of 76-year-old Georgia Danan:
she immigrated to Los Angeles in 2005, sought a job as a domestic worker through the Mt. Sinai Home Care agency, and then, like so many before her, found herself being both poorly treated–she said she was regularly yelled at and accused of stealing–and cheated out of a minimum wage. For one fifteen-day period, she said, the agency didn’t pay her at all.
“I am old. If I get sick, if I have no money, what will happen to me for my medicine and doctors?” said Danan, a former third-grade schoolteacher, as she wiped two streaks of tears from beneath her bifocals. “So I am appealing for the sake of all caregivers that are exploited like me. I am appealing that we should have justice!”
Filipina domestic workers of the New York-based DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association participated in the National Domestic Workers Congress held in New York last June 6. DAMAYAN estimates that Filipinos comprise about 15 percent of the 200,000 domestic workers in the New York area.
DAMAYAN is also active in the Jocelyn Dulnuan Support Committee, which is spearheading campaigns to reform Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program. There is a special focus on the stringent residency requirements, which guarantee that new arrivals years of separation from their families. Jocelyn had a husband and a four-year-old daughter in Ifugao.
Other problematic aspects of the LCP:
Beside the long years of separation from their families, caregivers tied to the live-in requirement report cases of exploitation, abuse and rape. Unable to upgrade their credentials and professional skills, nurses, engineers, accountants and teachers are typically de-skilled after the three-year live-in requirement.
However, there are glimmers of hope as a result of these grassroots action. In Canada, two Members of Parliament are pushing for changes in the LCP, such as sending inspectors to assess the working and living environment.
In New York, grassroots groups like DAMAYAN have taken the lead in advocating for Filipino migrant workers, a task that should be reasonably expected to fall on the government. It is a monumental task, one that depends on coalition work with other migrant groups. The words of executive secretary Linda Abad provide a stirring call to action:
“The Congress served as a catalyst in advancing both a national domestic workers movement and for invigorating a working class women’s rights movement in the US. We will make sure the Filipino domestic workers will be a vital part of this struggle.”