West Coast Domestic Workers Association (WCDWA) in Canada
- ILO Regions: Americas
- Country(ies): Canada
- Theme(s): Decent work; Prevention of abusive practices; Protection of migrant workers; Social integration and inclusion
- Start date: 1986
To provide free legal assistance, advocacy, support and counselling to live-in caregivers, who are mostly migrants.
More specifically, the objectives are to:
¿ Provide legal information, summary advice and full representation to live-in caregivers, primarily in the areas of immigration, employment law and family law;
¿ Maintain an effective and collective association of and for live-in caregivers;
¿ Educate and inform live-in caregivers about their rights;
¿ Provide skills training for live-in caregivers to help them advocate for themselves and for other live-in caregivers;
¿ Provide protection, assistance, information, support and counselling to live-in caregivers in need;
¿ Conduct research on safety, health, sexism, racism, and exploitation of live-in caregivers in Canada;
¿ Advocate for progressive reform of policies related to live-in caregivers.
- WCDWA is a non-profit association, with the majority of its funding provided by the Law Foundation of British Columbia.
- WCDWA also receives funding from other community foundations and funding initiatives: the Notary Foundation of BC, BC Gaming and the BC Government and Service Employees¿ Union.
- The association receives in-kind donations from the BC Federation of Labour and the BC Government and Service Employees¿ Union.
Activities, processes and steps involved:
WCDA officially formed and registered as a non-profit society in 1987, on the basis of a group of domestic workers initially brought together by researchers studying problems facing migrant live-in caregivers in Canada, in 1986. The organization provides a number of services to migrant caregivers, including free legal representation, skills training, and counselling. It also advocates for reforms to provincial and federal migration legislation and policies and disseminates information on employment standards and immigration laws.
WCDWA¿s Board of Directors is comprised primarily of live-in caregivers.
Current or former migrant live-in caregivers. Approximately 88 per cent of the clients are of Filipino descent. Of the remaining clients, the top three countries of origin are Peru, Mexico, and China. In addition to servicing these clients directly, WCDWA provides public legal education for workers and advocates across Canada.
Local community partners include other non-profit organizations, migrant and community groups, and NGOs. Working relationships have also been developed with officials from some government agencies and ministries.
In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, WCDWA provided 4154 direct legal services. During the same period, WCDWA also held 19 public legal education events in the Lower Mainland of BC and on Vancouver Island.
Relevant criteria for assessment
1. Respect for migrant worker rights:
WCDWA¿s mandate is to ensure that live-in caregivers have appropriate access to justice. It advocates for policy reform at both the federal and provincial level to increase protection for live-in caregivers in terms of health care, employment standards, and residency. Additionally, WCDWA¿s direct advocacy and legal education initiatives provide caregivers with information about their legal rights and obligations. The objective is to help workers avoid problems before they occur and to foster an environment of solidarity where workers are encouraged to advocate on their own behalves. WCDWA also attempts to provide community building-opportunities so that workers can escape sometimes highly isolated and exploitive work settings. Board members are mainly live-in caregivers.
Migrant workers, and especially live-in caregivers, are among the most vulnerable groups of workers in Canada. WCDWA promotes the rights of live-in caregivers by offering legal advice and representation, training, and advocacy for legal reform. These actions are essential to achieve improvement of the working and living conditions of live-in caregivers.
The vast majority of live-in caregivers in Canada are supporting financially dependent family members overseas. WCDWA¿s works to reunite caregivers with their family members in Canada by addressing immigration barriers that WCDWA clients face. Beneficiaries also include migrant workers outside the caregiver group, who likewise benefit from some of WCDWA¿s legal education and law reform work.
WCDWA works one-on-one with a large number of caregivers who require direct legal services. The organization represents caregivers with employment standards complaints, and in litigation before federal tribunals and courts.
At the Federal Court of Canada, where applicants must get ¿leave¿ of the court in order to bring an application for judicial review, WCDWA clients were granted leave in more than 50 per cent of cases, substantially higher than the 12 per cent public success rate. In 2004, WCDWA represented a live-in caregiver in the case of Lim v. MCI. The decision in the Lim case has positively affected administration of immigration policy as it relates to live-in caregivers, since the Federal Court instructed immigration officers to keenly observe the procedural rights owed to migrant workers, affording them ample opportunity to perfect technical errors before refusing work permit renewal applications.
In 1996, WCDWA successfully lobbied for inclusion of live-in caregivers in British Columbia¿s Employment Standards Act, at which point caregivers were granted minimum wage protection for the first time. In 2005, WCDWA also succeeded in securing federal Employment Insurance benefits for live-in caregivers who had previously been routinely denied coverage.
5. Potential for replication and extension (adaptability):
While specific to the concerns of live-in caregivers, WCDWA¿s work could easily be transferred to other migrant worker populations or other locations. Substantial overlap has already been found between issues facing caregivers and, for example, seasonal agricultural workers. The work could be replicated in other locations with appropriate local language and legal training on the part of service providers.
WCDWA is innovative in that it combines legal assistance, advocacy and support to effectively address the situation of caregivers in Canada. Its services and activities specifically address the needs of migrant caregivers.
7. Broad-based and participatory:
Migrant workers, interested community members, and social and community partners have all been involved in WCDWA¿s work. This includes everyone from caregivers who act as volunteers (directors, client service and office volunteers) to lawyers and professors who donate their services on a volunteer basis.
While financial sustainability is dependant on private foundations, WCDWA has nevertheless operated and expanded for more than 20 years.
- West Coast Domestic Workers¿ Association
302-119 West Pender Street