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Live-in caregivers work long hours without pay

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Two live-in caregivers announced that they have filed suits against their former employers to recover unpaid wages, overtime and other employment standards entitlements at a press conference Monday in the Queen's Park media studio.

Vivian said she worked 132 hours a week caring for an elderly woman with medical problems and her two adult children with developmental disabilities.

"I gave my life taking care of their family," said Vivian. "They kept adding to my job, more work, more hours, yet I was afraid of losing my job and I didn't know what the rules are."

Vivian claims she is owed over $55,000 in unpaid wages, overtime and vacation pay. She is also claiming $160,000 for wrongful dismissal.

The other caregiver, Lilliane, said she worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week taking care of two young children and the household.

"These children were like my family," says Lilliane. "Working almost 110 hours a week, I was paid $100 a month."

Both said they received no protection from employment standards violations and faced barriers to government enforcement of their rights to unpaid wages.

Two weeks ago, the Workers’ Action Centre released their report called Unpaid Wages, Unprotected Workers that surveyed the working conditions and wages faced by low wage workers, immigrants, newcomers and workers in precarious jobs.

The report found that violations of basic labour rights are the norm for many immigrants and workers in precarious jobs. Thirty three per cent of workers surveyed were owed money from their employers and 77 per cent were unsuccessful at recovering their money.

"The Ministry of Labour fails workers like Vivian and Lilliane who have no protection from working long hours with little pay," says Pura Velasco, Caregiver Action Centre.

"In our experience, we find that the Employment Standards Act (ESA) is not enforced in Ontario workplaces, especially where workers are forced to live in the employer's home."

Under the Act, an employee must be paid one and a half times their regular rate of pay for every hour worked in excess of 44 hours in a week.

Velasco said the federal government's Live-in Caregiver program, which requires caregivers to complete 24 months live-in work for a specific employer within 48 months, gives employers extraordinary power over their employees because the provincial government does a poor job of enforcing employment standards.

In Ontario, workers who feel their rights have been violated must file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch of the Ministry of Labour.

"This individual complaint mechanism discourages caregivers from asserting their rights as most of them are fearful of losing their jobs and as well as their chances of getting permanent residency status," said Velasco.

"So the government of Ontario must do its job in ensuring that real protection for migrant live-in caregivers should be enforced."

The Workers' Action Centre recommends that the time period to file claims be increased from 6 months to 2 years and the cap on monies recoverable be increased from $10,000 to $25,000. It also wants to see the government create anti-reprisal protections that encourage employees to bring forward their complaints.

"Wage theft happens when you're forced to stay in a workplace with no protection," said Deena Ladd, Coordinator, Workers' Action Centre, "and when there is no enforcement of your basic rights due to outdated labour laws that limit how and when you can claim your wages."

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