"I took my love for my own children and I put it on these girls"
April 4, 2016 11:44 AM   Subscribe

The Cost of Caring: After Emma realized that her white-collar job in the Philippines would never pay her enough to send her children to college, she came to New York and became a nanny. She hasn't seen her kids in 16 years.
posted by AceRock (57 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon story. In Hong Kong - the legions of Filipina nannies and care givers are legendary. They send a great deal of monies back home so that their own families and children are well taken care of - while they take care of the children and elders of families in Hong Kong.

I could tell you some very sad stories - of alienation, and not being appreciated by either their employers or families back home. But even in the best circumstances - its a very tough life.
posted by helmutdog at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sometimes, as she dressed the girls in the morning, she cried as she imagined her youngest children preparing for school with the assistance of the helpers. One of the helpers had a young son. Emma asked her children who cared for the boy while his mother was at their house, but her daughters didn’t know. Emma imagined a chain of mothers parenting other mothers’ children around the globe.

Oh, that is poignant.
posted by JanetLand at 12:02 PM on April 4, 2016 [54 favorites]


Emma’s daughters and their friends wished to go abroad, too, if not to America then to Japan or Hong Kong or New Zealand. “I think there’s no end to the cycle,” Emma told me. She found it hard to resist the idea of her daughters joining her in New York. She hasn’t seen them in sixteen years and still can’t discuss the separation without quietly crying. Over time, the tone of her children’s letters has evolved; there is less rivalry and more resignation. In the early years, the children kept guessing which holidays might be the occasion for Emma’s return. Gradually, they stopped asking about her plans. “I believe someday, if God permits, you can be with us once again,” her daughter Roxanne recently wrote.

Just heart wrenching.
posted by AceRock at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2016


Go to a mid-town Toronto playground in a weekday and you'll probably see one parent for every 10 nannies. It's been that way since the 80s. The government has facilitated the use of this cheaper, more vulnerable workforce to provide daycare to the Canadian upper middle class and now it's being shifted towards eldercare for the parents of same economic group.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:25 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


As a Filipina, this was an especially poignant read, and I'm bitterly angry at how the Catholic church in the Philippines has had a chilling effect on contraception for so long, leading to situations like Emma's.
posted by evoque at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [50 favorites]


Ilo Ilo is a great semi-autobiographical movie about the subject.
posted by danny the boy at 12:48 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I haven't RTFA'ed yet, but this subject is near and close to me and I just wanted to add in this link to a Pulitzer Center project that's done a great series of articles on this topic.
posted by bl1nk at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh and here's a Guardian article about Ilo Ilo, with a pretty moving semi-autobiographical postscript that the director talked a bit about at the screening I attended.
posted by danny the boy at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking.

I'm not certain of the exact rules, but I believe Canada's Live-In Caregiver program (which specifically brings in OFWs - many, if not most, from the Philippines) at least provides a path towards eventual citizenship. Two years as a temp worker, then you can apply as a permanent resident, then can get citizenship. I know several nannies in the very same midtown Toronto that bonobothegreat refers (I work in a school in the area) who have gained citizenship this way and who have since been able to bring their families to Canada.

Not ideal, but surely it's better than what is described in the article.
posted by elkerette at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


And note that while there's a waiting period (5 years?) between permanent residence and citizenship, you don't need citizenship to sponsor immigrants. So if it's true that nannies can apply for residency, they can start the sponsorship process as soon as their residency comes through. There's no particular need for citizenship.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nannies isn't all rich people, which is touched on with the family where both parents are nurses. If you have 2 kids and have to pay for daycare and/or pre/after school care then that is pretty much the cost of a nanny. Even if you have 1 kid, keeping a parent out of the workforce for 10+ years can have a huge impact on what they will earn when they eventually return to the workforce (assuming the parent is in a job where seniority/experience matter).

Fully publicly funded daycare is the most rational response to this situation, but until that happens people are going to need nannies.

Once my wife goes back to work/school we'll have to decide what we'll be doing for childcare. And if we're going to pay $2,500 for daycare and still have to worry about transportation, breakfast, supper, laundry, etc, it makes a lot of sense to pay a bit more and just have a nanny take care of all of that.

There are domestic issues in the Philippines that make working abroad as a nanny such an attractive option, but it isn't like they're being economically taken advantage of. In the article Ivy makes $130/day which is a decent wage and more than what many people I know make.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Bad things happened to Canada's Live-In Caregiver Program in 2014. I'm not sure what the situation is like right now, but I doubt that the Liberals have had time to change much yet.
posted by clawsoon at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would like to know why the government of the Philippines is so backward. Other countries in the region—Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam for example—have all experienced tremendous strides over the past two decades. The Philippines has not.

The high birth rate is one factor, but it's not the only factor. Filipinos deserve better.
posted by My Dad at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2016


My Dad: I would like to know why the government of the Philippines is so backward. Other countries in the region—Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam for example—have all experienced tremendous strides over the past two decades.

Lots of people have tried to explain. I don't think anybody has figured out the definitive answer yet.
posted by clawsoon at 3:15 PM on April 4, 2016


but it isn't like they're being economically taken advantage of. In the article Ivy makes $130/day which is a decent wage and more than what many people I know make.

or could be that many people you know are being economically taken advantage of. $130 a day in chappaqua, ny in what is likely more than 10 hour days with long stretches of no breaks, that's pretty terrible...
posted by nadawi at 3:19 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


The economic injustice here is the commute. A couple of thousand dollars each way, each time you want to go home to tuck your kids into bed. And if you do the commute, there's a pretty good chance you'll lose your job.

And people complain about a couple of hours on the bus each night to get home to their kids...
posted by clawsoon at 3:28 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


The economic injustice here is the commute.

The Philippines proper is even worse. I went to Cebu last year and got to know the staff at the business hotel I stayed at. They all commuted for at least two hours a day to get to work, although 4 hours a day was not unusual. And these were good career-track jobs in hotel management.
posted by My Dad at 3:51 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Google tells me that minimum wage is currently $9.00 in New York. In that context $130/day for steady work is not terrible.

The thing that sticks with me about Emma's story is that she's paid for all her kids to go to college so her stated mission for coming to the US has been fulfilled, but she still doesn't want to go back home. Despite all the ways her life must suck here she still feels it is better than going back.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:03 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


A thought experiment: Part of the original legal reasoning for 50/50 asset splits and spousal support payments after divorce, at least here in Canada, was that the partner who stayed home and looked after the kids enabled the other partner to go to work and earn all the money. It also prevented the partner who stayed home from developing their own career.

Both apply to nannies. As a working single parent, though, I'd be loathe to see 50% of my earnings go to childcare.
posted by clawsoon at 4:28 PM on April 4, 2016


> she still doesn't want to go back home.

Go home to what? She had a professional-level job, but left that career path to raise (other people's) children. Nobody wants to hire middle-aged women with 16-year gaps in their resumes.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:29 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


Google tells me that minimum wage is currently $9.00 in New York. In that context $130/day for steady work is not terrible.

Surely most folks value the people who provide full time care for their children (more than, say, the people who work fast food) and want to pay them better than minimum wage for a job that requires skills and a great deal of trust.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:32 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Living in Hong Kong, the Helpers are one of the most difficult parts of life here to stomach. I hike with a woman my age who is a domestic helper, and she is wonderful. The stories she and her friends tell are awful. My friend has been here 20 years and has no path to permanent residence or citizenship. If she lives in her own apartment rather than with her employers she can be arrested and deported. Her employers cover medical care (or are supposed to) but not dental, so tooth pain is a day to day reality. She now works for a nice French family who pay for her to go a good dentist, but they are not required to do so.

She tells stories of her first employer in Hong Kong-- she and the other helper slept in the dining room or on the balcony-- all other doors in the house were kept locked. The family would throw away leftover food rather than let the Helpers have it. They did not have keys to the house, and on their days off would not be allowed to stay inside. ("work if you want to be in my house"). They were searched every time they left the house, and questioned if the grandmother of the house thought they had too much money. Many Hong Kong families look at it as their moral duty to keep their helpers from "going bad" and don't allow them to stay out late at night.

And there is sexual predation-- the worst kind of expats marry young Filipinas. One woman I met remarked wryly about her 30 year older Australian husband: "better than washing floors" and "it's not so bad if I focus on my kids". The clubs in Wan Chai are full of beautiful Helpers looking for a partner who can get them a different kind of visa.

A Phillipines passport is close to useless. My friend won a spot in a hiking event in Japan. She won't be allowed to fly there unless her "family" travels with her. They're kind people, so they're willing to do this-- but it is rare indeed.

Helpers cause big problems between expat and local families. Most/many westerners give their Helpers 2 days off a week, even though they are only required to give them one day off. They also pay extra, or pay dental or give a bigger food allowance more. The locals complain bitterly that this "ruins" the market-- there are more Indonesian Helpers on the market than Filipinas right now, but Filipinas are much more wanted-- so they can pick and choose.

Finally, Hong Kong families depend on the helpers. Day care for children is otherwise very difficult to find and very expensive-- there is a very high participation here of women in the work force, and the Helpers make it possible.
posted by frumiousb at 4:33 PM on April 4, 2016 [21 favorites]


Google tells me that minimum wage is currently $9.00 in New York. In that context $130/day for steady work is not terrible.

do you think she works 8 hours and clocks out? or do you think she's pretty much always 'on call'? how much would it take for you to always be ready to clean up someone else's kid's puke at 2am? also the minimum wage in new york is (slowly) on its way to $15 as of today.
posted by nadawi at 4:35 PM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


In that context $130/day for steady work is not terrible.

Yes but it's expensive to live in NYC (or in anywhere in Canada, where the COL is very high everywhere).

Many of these workers are a) sending as much money as possible back home to support families and b) paying off debts incurred just to get to North America.

The Philippines depends on overseas workers for foreign currency inflow. It's a ridiculous situation and successive governments seem to be complacent about the situation.
posted by My Dad at 4:49 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


(I should note, by the way, that it's "easy" for expat families to give their Helper two days off-- most people who are not working for international companies have 6 day work weeks. Life is pretty brutal here for many, not just the Helpers. They just automatically get the bad end of the stick, whatever that stick may be.)
posted by frumiousb at 4:49 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


And still, all better than Singapore, where Helpers are subject to mandatory medical tests and immediately deported and blacklisted if they are found to be pregnant.
posted by frumiousb at 4:57 PM on April 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's really no surprise that Maoism is essentially part of the political mainstream in the Philippines. If you live in a society with tremendous inequality, and the reason for the inequality (and the fact that people live in informal communities under bridges and right on the damn sidewalk) is a combination of avarice and incompetence by the elites, well, I guess the neoliberal narrative breaks down entirely.
posted by My Dad at 5:03 PM on April 4, 2016


Other countries in the region—Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam for example—have all experienced tremendous strides over the past two decades.

There are a lot of reasons, some fundamental economic ones (Krugman visited the Philippines in the early 90s and wrote a report that identifies factors that still hold true today), but a major reason can be boiled down to two words: Ferdinand Marcos.
posted by AceRock at 5:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I used to live in NYC and since I work in tech, I rubbed shoulders enough with the startup/Big Four people that I have some on my Facebook friends list. Because of that I get to witness threads devoted to bashing and complaining about their nannies. Would they talk about their other employees this way? Junior developers and business analysts for example? Those underlings who they lavish with snacks and other perks?

But then I think about the fact these nannies came here voluntarily and the money they are sending home is making their children's lives better. That these asshole acquaintances of mine are providing that money even if they are assholes. That it's ultimately our society's choice to venerate tech workers and not domestic workers.

I think about myself and what it would mean to parent my own children. How it would affect my career. How much discrimination I would face. Even though ultimately my favorite job was not computer programming, but taking care of young children. How little protection mothers (and fathers) receive in the workplace in the US. And the whole thing makes me not even know what to say, except that women around the world face some seriously bad choices and we try to make the best of things.
posted by melissam at 5:18 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


Go to a mid-town Toronto playground in a weekday and you'll probably see one parent for every 10 nannies. It's been that way since the 80s.

I'm guessing that before that there were even fewer fathers.

I found some of this article to be a little backlashy. It could have focused specifically on the plight of workers who must be separated from their own families by thousands of miles for years, but descriptions like "produc[ing] authentic emotion in exchange for a wage" could just as easily apply to teachers at a state-run pre-k. Or even an elementary school -- truly good mothers homeschool, right? And childcare and elder care is work that "females in affluent countries no longer want to do"? As if women -- sorry, "females" -- did this work for free in the past because they wanted to?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


I found some of that framing to be problematic as well, Ralston McTodd, but a only fairly minor distraction from the overall story being told.

It could have focused specifically on the plight of workers who must be separated from their own families by thousands of miles for years

Sorry, I thought that was exactly the focus of the piece.
posted by AceRock at 6:56 PM on April 4, 2016


I meant that much of the framing implied that there was something wrong with the existence of all caregiving jobs.

It seems like it's hard to get this right in media coverage of labor conditions in female-coded work categories. I did think that the Times did a decent job in their recent series on nail salon workers of focusing on the business owners' culpability and avoiding the tempting "fancy fancy princesses who can't paint their own toes" angle.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


> Surely most folks value the people who provide full time care for their children (more than, say, the people who work fast food) and want to pay them better than minimum wage for a job that requires skills and a great deal of trust

I honestly can't tell if you're making a joke or not. Nannying, childcare, and teaching are all notoriously jobs that pay poorly. These workers are mostly women, and are supposed to be doing this work as a calling and not for such mundane reasons as to buy groceries. From the individual level to the societal, we don't properly pay people who look after children.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:54 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


as a white american woman i think we have a lot to answer for when it comes to how we've historically moved our subservience to women with less protection. i personally didn't find the framing to be problematic. i think it's good to examine at what cost our extended freedom is coming while also realizing that our choices are still scrutinized more than those better benefited from the patriarchy. these can exist concurrently, i think.
posted by nadawi at 7:56 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I question the need for children at all given the overpopulation of the word but cannot explain how may own showed up, unexpectedly. I was in a scholarship program during a post-doctoral fellowship at university, do the baby had to be strapped into a stroller whilst I was in the lab, but not that often. I still went bankrupt on daycare expenses on my credit card a few years later on despite my efforts to get my lab mates to take on full time day care. Not a good situation but I hope she leanred a bit of science during her screaming and babbling. Nevertheless, her mom is a bankrupted single mom, scarred for life for certain industries. Fick it.
posted by waving at 8:14 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


but it isn't like they're being economically taken advantage of. In the article Ivy makes $130/day which is a decent wage and more than what many people I know make.

I could talk about how people are not "being economically taken advantage of" and what is a "decent wage"--

but I'll pass.

The things we do to other human beings and can justify as being OK are amazing.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:22 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


This topic makes me squigy, as someone who was separated from her mother for economic reasons (though not systemic ones like those in the article). I don't know. My boyfriend and I have discussed this topic a lot as emerging middle-class people and our only solution so far is no children.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:37 PM on April 4, 2016


“produce authentic emotion in exchange for a wage.”

GEE, I WONDER WHAT THAT'S CALLED.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:38 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


When I finished my undergrad I went to Japan and taught English for a couple of years. I was making about $130/day and had to pay for all my living expenses so Ivy and Emma are probably doing better off financially than I was at that time. I had co-workers who could save up money to pay off their student loans from what they made. Yes I was able to leave and find better work back home but I have friends who have been doing the same job for the same pay for the last 10+ years because they don't think they could if they come back to Canada/USA. They're not particularly happy with the situation but they aren't being taken advantage of either.

If $130/day isn't a fair wage then what is and who decides this?

The nannies in the article were staying and working in the USA illegally which makes it harder for them to move up the employment ladder. But even still Emma was able to find higher-paying nanny jobs and negotiate her salary. It would be nice if the USA changed its immigration policies but the nannies went there knowing the situation.

For sure it is a bad situation where someone with a good job in the Philippines does the math and decides it makes more sense to be a nanny in the USA but the problem here isn't on the USA side of the equation.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:00 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are lots of domestic helpers (aka maids) here in Singapore too. It's almost standard for a middle class family to hire a maid to help take care of the children and do the household chores. They used to be mostly from the Philippines, but now Indonesian helpers are common too. Most recently, a large number have come from Myanmar.

My main issue with the conditions under which the helpers work here is not about the pay, but about the total imbalance of power between employee and employer. Helpers are on a special visa with several restrictions. Like somebody mentioned upthread, if you get pregnant, you get deported immediately, so most employers heavily police their helper's personal lives. Employers can dismiss their helper without need for justification, and the helper will get sent back to the agency that they were hired from. The maid agencies are particularly pernicious... the helpers owe them for the air ticket over here as well as various administration fees, and they sometimes try to milk this by forcing the helper to fly back home, incurring extra charges, and then flying back to try again, which costs more money. The helpers are basically helpless.

There have been many cases of abuse by employers too. Usually the employers will get arrested, but this is typically only for the more serious cases, e.g. in one case where an employer poured boiling water onto her helper's back. Minor physical abuse probably goes unreported, let alone verbal/emotional abuse which probably happens a lot more than I'd like to think about.

I think particularly among the older generation, there is a definite sense that these helpers are "lesser", and are to be treated as servants are "traditionally" treated in their culture, i.e. pretty badly. A lot of the older folks might be immigrants themselves, from lower class backgrounds, and so they're perpetuating the abuse that they experienced as coolies, drivers, cooks, and so on.

Various groups have formed to provide more support to the helpers in Singapore. There definitely needs to be some kind of support system that helpers can turn to when in trouble, and the helpers need to know about it. But the root of the problem is really the systemic imbalance of power, and that is what needs to be addressed.
posted by destrius at 11:33 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I can understand how well meaning first world folks can see injustice in the low wages these women must settle for. It's hard to see how demanding such workers are not taken advantage of, and paid a "decent" wage would not also result in screwing them out of the opportunities that they seek, all for the sake of concern for their well being.

The effect of such ingrained corruption, and complicating factors like religion, has fucked up many places, with the result being a supply of labor satisfied with low wages. That such laborers can find low wage work in the US, even illegally, is a good thing. With a high personal price, to be sure, but it's nothing new. The US was largely populated by people who had shitty circumstances in the old world. Many came exactly like these women, to help their families left behind. These are people perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves, and choose the best possible path they can find, as difficult as it may be. The despicable thing here is that governments like the US feel it's necessary to put up absurd roadblocks to prevent such desperate people from actually pulling themselves up. Especially educated people, who will be prevented from utilizing their strengths, which seems to be particularly true of many Filipino migrants. Demanding "decent" wages for migrant workers has the same effect. It doesn't matter if intentions are actually good. The result of enforcing such demands would see those opportunities dry up, all because well meaning people decided it's better for those workers to be unemployed than work for low wages.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:30 AM on April 5, 2016


the problem here isn't on the USA side of the equation.

Keep in mind, though, that the Philippines was a US colony (politely called a "protectorate") for fifty years, and that the US successfully controlled much of Filipino politics (under the guise of "anti-Communism") for another forty years after that. There's a lot to answer for on the USA side of the equation.
posted by clawsoon at 3:52 AM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


Other countries in the region—Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam for example—have all experienced tremendous strides over the past two decades.

As a Malaysian currently in Malaysia: OH PLEASE
posted by divabat at 6:28 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


If $130/day isn't a fair wage then what is and who decides this?

you keep focusing on the per day part, and i keep trying to point out the working conditions. 130 a day is a fair wage for plenty of jobs - jobs that are 8/10 hours a day, jobs that aren't in one of the 50 richest cities in the country, jobs that have breaks, jobs that have advancement opportunities. new york just decided the minimum wage for their state should be $15/hour. if we're being conservative and saying she only works 12 hours a day then minimum wage puts her at $180 a day. i think that job should be worth more than the bare minimum.
posted by nadawi at 7:07 AM on April 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Emma imagined a chain of mothers parenting other mothers’ children around the globe.

I've been thinking about this article for the past twenty-four hours and while this line certainly poignant, I think I have a different takeaway from it than a lot of other people here. Namely, what the article suggests to me is not that the evils of capitalism are dragging mothers away from their children, but that, given the opportunity, the vast majority of women will choose to enter the labor market - no matter how exploitative and imperfect that market might be - rather than parent their own children without compensation. Because, stripped of the ideology that surrounds it, child care is labor, and labor done for a wage is almost always preferable to labor performed for free.

At every stage of the chain, from the wealthiest to the poorest, women recognize that even the smallest increase in income will benefit their children more than the intangible magic of a 'mother's love.' But even when their children might be better off if they returned home, women continue to want to work for themselves. They want the independence that money provides for exactly the same reasons that people have always wanted it; because working for free is a kind of slavery, and money, even a little bit of money, equals at least a little bit of freedom.

Women don't naturally prefer staying home to rear their children any more than serfs naturally prefer working the land for their lords. It's not tragic that women hire other women to parent their children, not at all. It's a sign that the ideology that underpinned thousands of years of sexist injustice - the idea that childcare shouldn't be compensated just like any other labor - is finally beginning to crumble. Why shouldn't a woman prefer to go to someone else's house, take care of her children for eight hours, and then return home with money in her pocket? In a lot of ways, caring for someone else's children for a limited period requires less emotional labor than caring, full time and for free, for your own.

Of course, there is injustice in this story, but the injustice is all practical: it's about visas and minimum wage and mandatory time off. It's not about the inherent tragedy of caring for other people's children when you could be caring for your own.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:29 AM on April 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


7 kids by age of 32 tho? Can't help but feel a resistance to family planning contributed to her strife. (Thanks again Catholic Church)
posted by Damienmce at 7:52 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Women don't naturally prefer staying home to rear their children

I think most people of both sexes prefer living in the same country as their children. The issue here isn't that they're not stay-at-home moms in the Philipines, it's that they're not able to raise their kids at all.

"Why shouldn't a woman prefer to go to someone else's house, take care of her children for eight hours, and then return home with money in her pocket?"

Umm....yeah, that would be fine, but these women can't go home after 8 hours because even if they could afford it they wouldn't be back in time for work the next day. Easier visas, minimum wages, and mandatory time off wouldn't really solve this.

A solution would like more like decently-paid work in the Philipines for Filipino women and have people who already live in the country requiring childcare doing childcare in those countries (or Filipino women moving to other places WITH their families, doing their jobs 8 hours a day and then going home to their families. Of course they'd have to be paid enough to get childcare for their own kids, too). That solution will never happen, but anything less than that, including better pay and mandatory time off, isn't a solution to the actual problem, which is people being away from their children for their whole childhood.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:01 AM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


As mentioned by others, this is about women being exploited, by poorly regulated and frequently abusive employers. Many of the immigrant domestic workers work long hours, every day of the week, with minimal compensations (health care, vacation & sick time...). Here in Canada, the abuse these women experience is equated to human trafficking.
Many of the women who come to Canada have restrictions on their contracts and/or government visa - ie: that they cannot seek employment outside of being a nanny and in some cases, they cannot leave the city or province. Some workers live in their employers home and many do not. Those that do not must cover their rent, food and transportation - not a easy task living on below minimum wage.
It's a long and difficult process to legally pursue these abusive employers. I was working with a woman,who was financially, physically and emotionally abused by her employer. The company who brought her into the country provided no supports - nor any other employment. Similar companies could not hire her because of the restrictions on her visa. So, like many new immigrant women, she found restaurant work "under the table" - so she could buy food and transportation (she lives in a church basement).
Despite all odds - she choose the legal route, for the possibility of seeing the few hundreds of dollars her ex-employer owes her. A year later - she is still waiting. She does not qualify for any government financial assistance, due to the conditions of her visa. And because she only has a few months left on her visa - she will likely not see any legal compensation. She most likely will be deported, as she has not fulfilled the conditions of her employment contract and visa.
Across Canada, there are hundreds of stories like this one.
Sponsoring your family to Canada? Yes, that is the lure to get you in the country. However, it's not that simple. You must have $10,000+ in the bank just to apply - and then you must prove you can financially support your family for the next ten years. Not a likely reality for most new immigrants, living in poverty.
posted by what's her name at 8:14 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


if I only had a penguin...

Yes, I agree. And that's what I meant by:

Of course, there is injustice in this story, but the injustice is all practical: it's about visas and minimum wage and mandatory time off. It's not about the inherent tragedy of caring for other people's children when you could be caring for your own.

posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:27 AM on April 5, 2016


I understand that many nannies are faced with poor working conditions and abuse. The two in the article, Emma and Ivy , were not. They still did have very real problems surrounding leaving their families behind and making new lives for themselves in America which is what I thought the article was about.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2016


It's not just nannies. Many of my Asian friends lived exclusively with our grandparents for years at a time while our parents worked. This sets up all sorts of complexity when these children have babies themselves, because we're expected to hand our kids over for large chunks of time. And it's harder than you would think to find nannies, foreign and domestic, willing to work on the books, and expensive enough that my working is actually cash flow negative. I tell myself that it's an investment in my future career, but it's still hard to take.

I'm not sure what impact the new minimum wage will have. Going rate in my part of NYC for a nanny is already $15-$17/hour, off the books, for one kid and an entry-level nanny.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:00 AM on April 5, 2016


It's really nice to see such an outpouring of sympathy for all the children growing up without their mothers in the Philippines, in return for a living wage.

It's a deliberate social policy. Plenty of countries use exploited and/or price-diffetential migrant female labour to subsidize their own female labour to go into the workforce, rather than pay sustainable local wages for domestic childcare and healthcare.

The best part is that all the misery happens out of sight in another country.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:54 PM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Surely most folks value the people who provide full time care for their children (more than, say, the people who work fast food) and want to pay them better than minimum wage for a job that requires skills and a great deal of trust

I honestly can't tell if you're making a joke or not. Nannying, childcare, and teaching are all notoriously jobs that pay poorly. These workers are mostly women, and are supposed to be doing this work as a calling and not for such mundane reasons as to buy groceries. From the individual level to the societal, we don't properly pay people who look after children.


It was pretty tongue in cheek. I am constantly amazed by people who are willing to pay a million dollars (literally) for a house in the "right" neighborhood and go through all other kinds of machinations to get their kid into the "right" school, but still demand that their children's teachers and caregivers get paid and treated like shit.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:09 PM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


> It was pretty tongue in cheek

Ohthankgod.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:31 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the article Ivy makes $130/day which is a decent wage and more than what many people I know make.

Plus room and board. A nanny will live with the family in most cases.
posted by theorique at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2016


Plus room and board. A nanny will live with the family in most cases.

This is kind of what gets me about these foreign worker programs. It means the person really isn't coming in as an immigrant - with a family to draw support from. They're being brought into a situation, beholden to a particular employer without much direct access to other supports and relief. Even when they complete the work period, getting their own place and working freelance is tougher because the competing workforce is constantly being refreshed with new labour (room & board being a component of the pay).
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2016


Yeah, the structure of the job kind of locks them in. Once they get settled in, and once their family abroad starts depending on the regular remittances, the lifestyle has a momentum of its own, which I imagine is very difficult to let go.
posted by theorique at 1:13 PM on April 6, 2016


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