Here is an excellent statement on the racist “reasonable accommodation” hearings in Quebec, from Montreal’s Immigrant Workers Centre:
Whose Reasonable Accommodation ?
The debate raised in Quebec on ‘reasonable accommodation’ is built on a number of false assumptions about the relationship between majority groups (‘we’) and minorities (‘they’) and what ‘we’ believe the correct behaviours of ‘they’ should be. It is the wrong debate. Reasonable accommodation should begin with the rights of workers. Accommodating reasonably implies the protection of basic rights, decent wages, rapid recognition of credentials, and terminating ‘guest worker’ programs that deny rights. We have to remember that historically Canada/Quebec has been created and developed through the colonization of First Peoples on the one hand and the exploitation of migrant labour on the other, in order to build the ‘nation’. These processes continue unabated.
The public debate on ‘reasonable accommodation’ remains how ‘they’ should modify their customs to accommodate ‘us’. It assumes, dangerously, that there are common values, as though such things actually exist. We are writing this because we do not believe in this false consensus, this tendency to homogenize all things except food, custom and costume. ‘Cultural accommodation’ blinds the public to the realities of migration, and how the middle and owning classes of Quebec society benefit from the exploitation of the ‘they’. The connections between immigration and labour are absent from the debate and we believe that it should be at its centre.
Let’s briefly review some of the trends in immigration and labour over the past 30 years and ask ourselves is this ‘reasonable accommodation’? Most immigrants arriving during this period are from countries in the South (Asia, Africa, Latin America) and therefore they are not white. The economic forces that push them out of their countries are the same ones that shape their conditions here. They are ‘the other’. They have arrived with high levels of education and skills. Yet over that time, most have not had their skills and training recognized and therefore, they have been forced to take jobs that many “Canadians/Quebecers” reject. They do the work that remains hidden: the caring for children and the elderly, the services and cleaning that allows the ‘we’ to function. In these jobs, there is little protection. Minimal labour standards exist on paper, but are not posted in workplaces or in private homes for caregivers and domestic workers. There are few inspectors and where these standards are abused, it is incumbent upon the workers her/himself to challenge her/his boss. They are often isolated and with few other employees. For people who are struggling to raise children and send remittance payments to family members in their countries of origin, this is a great risk. It takes enormous courage to stand up for their labour rights when the chances of their winning anything and keeping their job is remote. You might say that this is a situation of ‘reasonably accommodating’ the class interests of employers by providing a pool of skilled, cheap labour (trained and educated elsewhere) who are prepared to work in almost any conditions as the price of migration to a better place. In addition, there is little evidence to support the myth that ‘things get better for immigrants with time’.
Many Canadians and Quebecers are unaware that we have programs for ‘guest workers’, who are brought in for limited periods and sent back to their home countries when the work is done. This is the case of agricultural workers. Domestics, through the Live-in Caregiver Program, are brought in and if they comply as live-ins can apply as permanent residents. The federal government likes these programs and intends to increase their use because they allow labour to be brought in without any real ‘accommodation’ as strict rules regulate the conditions of exploitation. Workers in these programs have little recourse to protection from the laws and policies for ‘us’ and remain the ‘they’ of the labour market. Even worse off are the many workers without formal status- who remain hidden as cleaners, cooks, dish-washers and domestics, facing arbitrary and well-below the minimum wage and labour standards, not eligible to making any claims but available nonetheless to be exploited.
As the policies of the provincial and federal governments have been to open up markets and reduce ‘expensive’ state programs, immigrant labour has been one of the ways of filling the gaps left by the inadequacies of neo-liberal policies. We don’t need as many decent nursing homes if immigrant women, often trained as nurses, can provide cheap care at sub-standard private ones or in peoples’ homes. We don’t need as much public childcare if we can import nannies. We do not need to increase wages and improve working conditions if the international labour pool will continue to bring workers here who are pushed into sub-standard jobs. Accommodation implies justice for immigrant workers as a precondition for any other discussion.
Immigrant Workers Centre-Board and Staff
Sid de Guzman
Immigrant Workers Centre Research Group
Onward With the Struggle!
Centre des Travailleurs et Travailleuses Immigrants
Immigrant Workers Center
6420 ave. Victoria Suite 9
Phone: (514)342-2111 Fax: (514)342-2786