Star Investigation: Part 1
TheStar.com | News & Features
Nannies trapped in bogus jobs
(PHOTOS : THE NANNY: Joelino Maluto, left, a 44-year-old mother of four, claims her promised job with a Toronto family turned out to be non-existent when she arrived in Toronto from Hong Kong illegally. THE RECRUITER: Trakela Spivak, right, says she can provide a nanny within a week even though the application process typically takes up to a year. She denies breaking any rules.)
Part 1: Nannies trapped in bogus jobs
Part 2: Federal agencies fail to protect nannies
Lured by the promise of a better life, hundreds of foreign-trained nannies have found themselves working illegally in menial jobs, without their passports and owing thousands to job agencies
'This is human trafficking'
Comments on this story : (34)
and Robert Cribb
March 14, 2009
Four months after being lured to Canada, housed in a basement and pressured by a nanny recruiter to work illegally, Filipina Joelina Maluto summoned the courage to take back her life.
Desperate and disillusioned, Maluto stood on the doorstep of the woman who had brokered her entry to Canada nanny recruiter Rakela Spivak and demanded return of the passport that had been taken from her.
Maluto claims in court documents that after her promised job with a Toronto family turned out to be bogus, she joined 16 other unemployed Filipina nannies sleeping on the floor of Spivak's basement “in custody, detention, imprisonment and incarceration, without proper food … harassed, frightened, scared.” She said she and the other nannies were “exploited to work for Rakela and under stress, pressured, pushed and oppressed.”
Following a curt exchange, Spivak handed Maluto, a demure 44-year-old mother of four, her passport and then served Maluto with a lawsuit claiming the nanny owed $3,500 in brokerage fees.
Maluto's story of mistreatment is being played out frequently across Ontario.
A Toronto Star investigation has found that the popular federal Live-In Caregiver Program has become a nanny trap. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of foreign caregivers have paid $5,000 or more to come to Canada to care for children or the elderly during the last decade jobs that too often turn out to be fake. Once here, their federal contracts are void. Faced with what is for them a crushing debt, some are forced to work illegally at part-time, sometimes menial jobs; others are deported.
Federal authorities are turning a blind eye to this exploitation.
Documents obtained by the Star show Canada Border Services Agency officials believe there is “ongoing fraud and misrepresentation” within the program, but the immigration and human resources departments are not taking action.
The Star presented its investigative findings to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney who said his department is aware there is abuse in the program.
“We have this whole industry, most of which is unlicensed and unregulated, and large numbers of unscrupulous operations in Canada and throughout the world who exploit people's dreams and hopes to come to Canada,” he said.
Kenney says he has asked his officials to recommend changes to tighten controls over the program.
The Star has interviewed two-dozen caregivers who came to Canada over the past five years. Almost all arrived to find their employers did not exist or had hired someone else.
“It's a human depot,” said Frank Luna, the labour attach with the Philippine consulate in Toronto. “The exploitation has been so widespread and going on for so long that the perpetrators no longer feel or see evil in what they do.”
In an interview, Spivak said she runs a reputable business Rakela Care International that brings about 200 foreign caregivers to Canada each year, mostly Filipinas coming via Hong Kong. She denied housing nannies in her basement, and claimed Maluto used her to get to Canada.
“They come here and they use me and they run away,” said Spivak, whose advertisements overseas promise “real jobs” and “real employers” that will make a prospective nanny's “dream come true.”
Spivak said it is not her fault if employers who use her services decide they do not want a nanny.
“It's nothing to do with me. I never know until they arrive if the client wants them,” Spivak said.
In an interview, Spivak would not address allegations that her agency is violating the rules of the federal program and is exploiting nannies with high fees while failing to deliver the promised jobs.
Instead, she talked of how she trains all her nannies to do laundry and cook; and produced cards and a guest book, filled with supportive comments from nannies expressing thanks for her help.
The 17-year-old federal Live-in Caregiver Program, designed to fill a shortage of nannies, allows Canadians to import foreign caregivers through employment agencies, which in Ontario are neither regulated nor licensed.
Anyone can open a nanny importing business. The Internet is replete with ads from dozens of Ontario agencies claiming to have nannies on hand.
The promised payoff for the nannies is a chance at landed immigrant status after two years of work. The number of foreign nannies given permits to work in Canada has tripled in the last five years (from 3,458 in 2002 to 11,878 in 2007, the most recent information available). Most are from the Philippines.
Likewise, the number of approvals Canadian families received to hire overseas nannies issued by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada hit nearly 36,000 last year, about 11,000 more than were issued two years before.
A border services source told the Star the level of fraud in the program is also growing.
On many days “at least 90 per cent of the women coming in as caregivers come in for bogus employers,” said one official on the condition of anonymity. “The minute they start working illegally they are open to exploitation by both the agencies and the employers.
“This is clearly human trafficking,” the border services source said.
A bulletin from the Anti-Fraud and Human Trafficking Section of the Canada Border Services Agency last March cites a “trend occurring in which dishonest employment agencies sign up fraudulent 'employers' to bring live-in caregivers to Canada but the contracts disappear once the caregivers arrive,” the memo reads. “The caregivers are innocent and are left obligated to pay the agency fees but are left without employment.”
But instead of going after the agencies, the government nabs some of the nannies, with the authority of a 2007 Federal Court ruling that found caregivers with bogus contracts cannot remain in Canada even if they find a legitimate job.
“This is so unfair to these women who have given up everything and taken on so much debt to come here and work,” said Pura Velasco, of the Caregivers Support Services Centre. “We have to stand up as a community and make the government account for its lack of respect for us.”
Advocates such as Velasco regularly host meetings across the GTA where nannies speak angrily about their predicament.
One recent meeting in a North York auditorium attracted more than 120 nannies. They complained openly about the fees, and the bogus families. Some talked about being forced to work 12- to 15-hour days without overtime, days off or even minimum wage salaries.
Others complained of isolation, lack of nutritious food and mistreatment by employers.
“We look at Canada as the land of milk and honey,” said Mel, a 50-year-old Filipina nanny and mother of two children in the Philippines shortly after two Star reporters helped her leave a home where, she said, she had been verbally abused and mistreated.
“Everyone wants to come to Canada until they're here.”
Marsha Mason, director of Intercede, a non-profit agency that counsels domestic workers, said most of the 5,000 cases the agency handles each year are Filipina caregivers.
Mason says she recently gave $100 from her own pocket to a nanny who didn't have enough to buy sanitary napkins and deodorant.
The practice of charging fees to the nannies to secure them work is banned by governments in all western provinces, but not in Ontario. The Philippines government also bans the practice, but it still goes on, with many agencies getting around the laws by recruiting nannies working in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai.
Some nanny advocates say agencies should charge families for arranging a caregiver. While some respectable agencies do this, they say they lose business to agencies that just charge the nanny. Some agencies charge both the employer and the nanny.
Memos obtained by the Star show federal enforcement officials have repeatedly warned their bosses that the program leaves “innocent victims” open to exploitation by both agencies and employers. One memo from the Border Services Agency lists about 20 Toronto-area Live-In Caregiver agencies and individuals suspected of fraud, and recommends they be prosecuted.
Another memo from an enforcement officer at Pearson International Airport states the problem is widespread.
“Again today we had another live-in caregiver with no employer,” the memo reads. “The integrity of the program seems to be in jeopardy.”
At Pearson, some officials call to see if an employer exists. Most do not. Typically, the women are allowed to enter the country, are picked up by an agency driver, and then housed in basements or dingy apartments run by the agencies.
For nannies who can't afford to pay their placement fees up front, some agencies offer financing by closely related companies that charge interest of up to 20 per cent.
Some agencies compel the women to open bank accounts into which their paycheques are deposited until their placement fees are paid back. Caregivers who cannot or refuse to pay sometimes find themselves in small claims court fending off lawsuits from their recruitment agents. Spivak has sued two and threatened a third nanny with a lawsuit.
“It's as if all the agencies got together and came up with a template for exploitation,” said Velasco, a former caregiver who has spent the past 20 years advocating for nannies' rights. “We have to stand up against this intolerable situation. It's disgusting what's happening to these women.”
Three nannies interviewed by the Star say their lives in Canada became so intolerable they seriously considered suicide. One of these women is Joelina Maluto, brought in by the Rakela Agency.
“I was so depressed, I didn't want to keep living,” said Maluto, who paid Spivak's agency $1,100 up front in the Philippines for a job as a caregiver looking after six children with a Thornhill family a job that had disappeared when she arrived.
“My children are desperate and asking for money and I had nothing to send them,” she said of her four daughters back in the Philippines.
Rakela Spivak has sued Maluto claiming unpaid fees; Maluto has filed a defence alleging mistreatment by the Rakela Agency. The claim and counterclaim are allegations and have not been proven in court.
Spivak runs her agency out of her spacious Thornhill home, using her red Range Rover (licence plate RAKELA) to drive new nannies to the bank and other appointments. She advertises in hockey rinks and the local Shalom Toronto newspaper. Her ads boast of the 2006 “Excellent Service Awards,” an honour she said she bestowed on herself at the urging of a group of nannies.
To bring in a foreign caregiver, federal regulations state that a family with suitable income must sponsor the nanny. An application must be filled out, paperwork processed, typically taking up to a year.
But Spivak, and many other agencies, can get you a nanny almost instantly. The Star found that's because a person who applies for a nanny today is actually getting one that was sponsored by another family months earlier.
When a Star reporter posing as a potential client visited Spivak, she said a nanny could be provided within a week, and acknowledged that the proper application process would take much longer.
Asked if the government could learn of the illegal employment, she told the would-be client: “Why would they have to find out?”
Spivak also said her nannies work well beyond the contractual eight hours without overtime pay.
“No, no overtime … don't worry about that. I've never had any problems with this.”
Maluto is one of nine nannies interviewed by the Star who came to Canada through Spivak's Rakela Care Agency.
All said Spivak promised them jobs for fees ranging between $2,500 and $3,500, which ballooned to $5,000 when they arrived in Toronto. All but one arrived to learn their jobs didn't exist. None had ever even spoken to employers who supposedly filled out the federal paperwork to sponsor them.
Spivak demanded the nannies sign contracts that required turning over their passports and social insurance cards.
Most were housed in Spivak's basement for as many as two weeks with as many as a dozen other women. The nannies say they slept on mattresses on the floor and spent their days cleaning the house and cooking for Spivak's family.
If the basement becomes too crowded, some are moved to an apartment at Steeles Ave. and Bathurst St. To pay their debt to Spivak, most were offered part-time jobs cleaning homes, which immediately placed them in violation of immigration rules that stipulate they must work and live with the family that sponsored them.
In an interview at her home office, Spivak denied telling the undercover reporter she could provide a nanny without proper federal approvals. She acknowledged the Hong Kong government warned her in 2007 about recruiting there without a licence.
She said the matter has been resolved and she visits Hong Kong several times a year to hold “orientation” seminars for nannies interested in Canada. Her caring treatment of the women has often been abused, Spivak said.
“You should talk about the girls that come here and are using me,” she said. “Some come here to find guys and get pregnant. You know how many are pregnant?”
As to the passports, Spivak said she collects them “for safe keeping.” She recently received a stern letter from the Philippine consulate in Toronto demanding she return them to their owners. Spivak said she will comply.
Until the consulate letter, nannies interviewed by the Star said Spivak would not return passports until placement fees were paid up.
Immigration Canada's website alerts foreign workers that employers cannot take their passports.
In the food court of Thornhill's Promenade Mall last month, half a dozen nannies lined up to hand cash to one of Spivak's assistants, who handed them back receipts.
Six of the women who spoke with the Star all said they worked longer than the 40-hour weeks listed in their contracts, without overtime.
Ali Martell, a former Spivak client, said she received a strange call from an Immigration official in 2007 telling her that her nanny had just arrived at the Vancouver airport.
The Martells had gone to Spivak months earlier asking for a nanny for their three children. Spivak had them fill out an application form and got them a nanny within days.
“We picked up (the nanny) and she had a completely different name than the name we were originally given.”
When the nanny quit three months later, Martell said she cancelled all ties with Spivak. But Spivak used the previous application to bring a nanny to Canada without her permission, Martell said.
“It makes me sick to think about it,” Martell said in an interview. “What happens to this poor woman who just showed up in Vancouver, completely alone, thinking she was going to have a job? I was devastated for her.”
In an interview, Spivak denied misrepresenting her services to the Martells and said the couple never cancelled their original request for a nanny. As for providing nannies quickly, Spivak said if a family wishes to hire a caregiver without the proper federal work permits, “that's their problem, not mine.”
The reporters can be reached at 416-945-8674 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RE: We pay a huge % of our income for “good” government….
CanKiwi: “Govt agencies are quick enough to jump all over the rest of us over all sorts of PC idiocy, but faced with a REAL PROBLEM, they're vitually useless”… The articles states “The practice of charging fees to the nannies to secure them work is banned by governments in all western provinces, but not in Ontario.” Clearly, the provincial gov't is dragging its feet on this issue and needs to work WITH (not “pressure”) the fed gov't to erase the problem. Let's not use this unfortunate story to bash conservatives – they are not currently setting Ontario's policies.
Submitted by aegeanmemories at 11:58 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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I am calling the attention of concern government officials to take actions on this matter. A woman like me is trusting this country to protect my rights because its in the law. And to the reporter of this article… thanks for putting it in the paper and I hope this time, the person who is concern will read and open his eye and heart to take actions. To RAKELA, the nannies are not using you, YOU are using them.. how could they pay you when you are not giving them a legal employers?? shame on your face!!!
Submitted by onelookuptocanada at 11:54 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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union subsidized daycare !!!!!` I love it
people taking care of their own children by getting together with the union to supply quality daycare for its members?? If I was David A. lewis I would start this ball rolling immediately. This could REALLLLLY WORK
Submitted by whatthe! at 11:42 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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i am deeply disturbed by this: Spivak said if a family wishes to hire a caregiver without the proper federal work permits, “that's their problem, not mine.” it's ridiculous! the reason that parents hiring nannies go through agencies is because we are NOT professionals. we don't know the ins and outs and legalities of hiring nannies. NANNY AGENTS, on the other hand, are supposed to know and represent both the nannies and the employers. the LEGAL parts of hiring a nanny are left in her hands. She should be responsible AND held accountable for anything not legit. it is, in fact, HER problem.
Submitted by aparent at 11:23 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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Canada claims to be a model of the world in immigration yet it is so far from it. The US only allows au pairs, which must have time off a private room and must attend school and it all must be verified by immigration. CIC et al to often pushes this off on a self serving immigrant org. OCASI is just to blame for this as well.
Submitted by SMC at 11:17 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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the real villains…
… are the people who 'require' nannies. Let's face it, the gov. set up this live-in care program for the Rosedale, Leaside and Forest Hill types who are loathe to send their kids to a public daycare where they might have rub elbows with the unwashed masses. Maybe people who 'need' a nanny might want to to consider staying home and looking after their own kids or put them in a regular daycare like the rest of us. And hey, maybe the availability and condition of our public daycares would improve if these folks who usually have more power and influence than the rest of us had to use them. Bottom line, if you don't have the time to look after your kids, maybe you shouldn't have them. The humane society would never adopt out a dog to someone who is never home to look after it. Why don't we think the same way when it comes to our children.
Submitted by eastyorker17 at 11:10 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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One cheap country !!
This is merely a way for Canada to get dirt cheap labours “legally”! One cheap country. Two sets of standards for human rights. Three parties involved; the federal government, the nannies, and their agencies. Shameful indeed!!
Submitted by starcomment at 11:08 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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Change the rules
Why hasn't Ontario banned agency fees like other provinces? As long as there is easy money to be made, vultures will swoop in and take advantage of others. Ban the fees and prosecute the companies that violate this law. Verify that the nanny is legitmate at immigration and send send her back if it's fake. The problem will go away.
Submitted by Where is common sense? at 11:07 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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What is the real cost of all these nannies?
Here we have a situation of abuse and mistreatment of a significant number of people so that some can hire nannies for dirt cheap so that they can go on living their lavish lifestyles with two incomes. What is the true cost of the Live in Caregiver program? How much money are Canadians, through their taxes, paying to subsidize the relatively few nannies that are working here legitimately? Instead of spending money on programs like these, through court, immigration, etc. costs, the government should make changes to make it easier for Canadians to raise their own kids. How about start with things like income splitting which could save families money and help make it a little bit easier to have a stay at home parent.
Submitted by mf123 at 10:50 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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Dear don't worry because basically every single immigrant that comes to Canada has a job dream offer but ends up driving cabs, delivering pizza or any other low profile job. You are not alone on this broken promises land.
Submitted by Aramartis at 10:39 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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In her own words
I don't know if the allegations that Spivak scammed these women into coming to Canada by promising them jobs that didn't exist, warehoused them in her basement with only mattresses on the floor to sleep on, and farmed them out as housekeepers so they could pay back their debts to her are true, but her own admission that she withheld their passports and social insurance cards (for “safekeeping”) and the fact that she refers to these grown women as “girls” is damning. Her attitude towards the women is classist, and sadly not uncommon in nanny-employer dynamics. Her attitude and words strongly suggest that she sees herself as “above” these women, and therefore entitled to treat them at best like children, or – at worst, if the allegations are true – like they are not even fellow human beings.
Submitted by librarychick at 10:15 AM Saturday, March 14 2009
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The abuse is structural in western world
This type of abuse has become structural in western world. Women and even mothers are imported from other continents to subsidize western life styles that can not be sustained using local labour at nominal cost so the immigration loop holes have been installed to funnel cheap labour into these markets and rackets have also set up shop to extract cash from it as Canadian families do so for the same reasons. Its all about cash, if day care and local nannies are too expensive, legalized human trafficking is suppose deliver instead.
Submitted by tes at 10:09 AM Saturday, March 14 2009