A live-in caregiver deserves more than $40,000 in damages for unpaid overtime work and poor treatment, the Quebec Human Rights Commission has ruled.
Gelyn Dasoc-Hilot left the Philippines in 2012 after being recruited by a Montreal placement agency, successfully applied for a work permit under the federal live-in caregiver program, and was hired to take care of four children in Côte Saint-Luc, Que. However, she soon found herself working more hours than expected as she also performed duties such as cleaning, cooking, washing the family cars, caring for pets and yard work.
According to Dasoc-Hilot, her contract indicated she would be working 40 hours per week, but in reality it was closer to 65 as she often started working as early as 7 a.m. and worked as late at 11 p.m. She claimed when she asked to be paid for the extra hours, her employer threatened to get her work permit revoked and send her back to the Philippines.
Dasoc-Hilot quit after two months in September 2012 and contacted the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), which informed the Quebec Human Rights Commission about her situation. She also said her former employer didn’t return her belongings after she quit.
In April 2013, CRARR filed the complaint. That same month, the former employer spotted Dasoc-Hilot near a mall with a child she had begun caring for and took a picture of her without her permission, threatening to report her to the immigration department, according to Dasoc-Hilot. Six months later, the former employer’s lawyer sent Dasoc-Hilot $1,401 in response to a complaint she had lodged with Quebec’s employment standards commission.
The commission found that Dasoc-Hilot's former employer “refused to pay the victim a salary for her first two weeks of work, while she was learning about her tasks … and threatened to call immigration services to send her back to her native country."
It ordered Dasoc-Hilot's former employer to pay her $41,600 — $11,600 for lost wages and airfare, $25,000 in moral damages, and $5,000 in punitive damages.
CRARR director Fo Niemi told CBC News it's all too common for employers to exploit the live-in caregiver program.
“These women are very vulnerable, because they are women, they are foreigners and they don't know their rights,” Niemi said, adding that the federal government should take more aggressive action against abusive employers.
"This kind of violation basically shows that the employer has basic, almost absolute authority over these woman caregivers and that's what we need to change because, otherwise, we're going back to the practice of indentured labour," Niemi told CBC News.
The commission's ruling is not binding, Dasoc-Hilot can take the matter before a human rights tribunal if her former employer doesn’t heed the commission’s order.
That might happen, as Dasoc-Hilot’s former employer apparently offered an out-of-court settlement for $2,000 that was refused as “humiliating,” Niemi said in a press conference.
Dasoc-Hilot told CBC News she's willing to pursue that avenue so that other Filipina women in her situation get treated like employees, not servants.