OHS Canada Magazine

Live-in caregivers unsung contributors to oilsands economy, report says

February 17, 2015
By Jason Contant
Health & Safety Oilsands temporary foreign workers

Study highlights challenges including unpaid overtime, underpayment and poor working conditions

(Canadian OH&S News) — Live-in caregivers in northern Alberta’s oilsands region help ease work-life stresses for families in the intensive environment, but do so at great personal and financial costs, a new study has suggested.

Led by University of Alberta sociologist Sara Dorow, the study, Live-in Caregivers in Fort McMurray: a Socioeconomic Footprint, found that live-in caregivers — foreign nationals living in Canadian homes and employed to provide child or adult care — faced many challenges, including unpaid overtime, underpayment and illegal or poor working conditions. The online survey involved interviews with 56 temporary foreign workers living and working in dwelling units in and around Fort McMurray under the federal Live-in Caregiver Program, as well as qualitative information from individual interviews and focus groups with caregivers conducted between 2008 and 2014. The study was estimated to have captured approximately 10 per cent of the local live-in caregiver program.

In particular, 20 per cent of the surveyed caregivers reported that they were not paid or only occasionally paid for overtime hours and worked an average of 10.4 overtime hours a week. Eighteen per cent reported receiving less than the Alberta prevailing gross hourly wage, and illegal or poor working conditions was the second most important reason cited for changing employers while working in Fort McMurray.

“Residents of Fort McMurray work the longest hours in the country, often on rotational shifts,” said Dorow, the report’s lead author and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Alberta. “Live-in caregivers help to make the oilsands work regime sustainable by absorbing some of its stresses. At the same time, they experience stresses of their own, including the uncertainties of both the oilsands economy and the foreign worker policies coming out of Ottawa.”

The study noted that residents of Fort McMurray work the longest hours in the country, with residents who work 50 hours or more a week accounting for 32 per cent of the population, compared to only 17 per cent at the national level. On a weekly basis, live-in caregivers work 53.7 hours on average and tend to work even longer when one or both of their employers works at the site.


“Long and variable working hours combine with high mobility and turnover to contribute to both social opportunities and social stresses, including shortages of time for volunteering, leisure, family and daily care activities,” the study said. “Live-in caregivers in Fort McMurray have sacrificed substantial financial savings and long years without their own spouses and children to work for families in the oilsands region. The opportunity to immigrate is what keeps them going.”

Other findings include:

  • The majority of live-in caregivers (88 per cent) were female and from the Philippines;
  • Eighty-two per cent were between 25 and 44 years of age;
  • Seventy per cent of the sample surveyed each invested between $4,000 and $8,999 overall to move to work in Canada, while each of their employers likely spent about $3,000 (for Labour Market Impact Assessment processing fee and airfare); and
  • Live-in caregivers found cold weather, limited social activities, homesickness and cultural adjustment to be key challenges.

The summary of the survey is available online athttp://www.onthemovepartnership.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Live-in-Caregivers-in-Fort-McMurray-Report-Overview-Dorow-et-al-Jan-2015.pdf. The full report is available at http://www.onthemovepartnership.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Live-in-Caregivers-in-Fort-McMurray-Dorow-et-al.-January-2015.pdf.


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