British Columbia

Abused and kept like slaves, say B.C. domestic workers

Two immigrant women working as live-in domestic help in the Vancouver area say they were held captive and treated like slaves.

Women worked unpaid overtime, could not leave homes

Two Vancouver caregivers say they had been held captive like prisoners in the homes they worked in, reports the CBC's Natalie Clancy 3:42

Two immigrant women employed as live-in domestic help in separate homes in B.C.’s Lower Mainland say they were treated like slaves by their employers and held as virtual captives in their jobs.

One of the women, who worked as a nanny and housekeeper, said she still feared her employers and spoke to CBC News on the condition that her identity was concealed.

The other woman, Lynn Jose, was a caregiver for an elderly man with Parkinson’s disease.

Both workers ended up at the same Vancouver-area women's transition house, recovering from their ordeals and looking for new work.

Jose, in her early 30s, said she worked, "from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the morning. So, worked 12 hours, but you only got paid eight hours. I haven’t been paid yet for that time."

The nanny, also in her early 30s, told a similar story.

"I was working like a slave, because from 6:30 [a.m.] until 9:30 in the evening, you cannot sit, you cannot rest," said the woman, who declined to reveal even her first name.

"After the children left [for school], I had to run upstairs, cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen and all the rooms downstairs and upstairs," she said.

She said her only escape from child care and cleaning 16 hours a day was getting fired. Her boss let her go rather than give her time off for an operation on her foot, she said.

Surveillance cameras and alarms

Each of the women said they were constantly monitored by surveillance cameras inside the homes and were not allowed to adjust the electronic security systems, which meant that if they left the house, they would trip the burglar alarms.

"You weren't allowed to leave the house?" the second woman was asked. "No," she said. "Even the code number at the alarm — they were not trusting me any way."

Lynn Jose was treated 'like an animal,' she says, while caring for an elderly man with Parkinson's. ((CBC))

Jose cared for a bedridden man, and said his wife attacked her more than once.

"She punched me here," Jose said, pointing to her shoulder. "And [she] grabbed me on my arm and she pressed harder and left two black and blue [marks] on my arm."

Jose said the second attack occurred when she asked to go to the mall on her day off.

"She went towards me, scratching me on my shoulders, then she punched me here," she said, again pointing to her right shoulder.

Sister called police

Jose texted her sister overseas, who called police in the Lower Mainland.

"[The police] asked me if I want to do further investigation. I said, 'No, I just want to leave. I am afraid,'" said Jose.

"And the police said, 'Do you know anybody here? Do you have a community or a church?'  I said no. I told them I don’t know anybody here."

Jose had been employed at the home for only a few weeks before quitting. Now unemployed, she is desperate to find a better job with a new family.

Both of the domestic workers said they were threatened with deportation and violence.

The nanny said the elderly man she was caring for held her by the arms and told her she was dumb.

"I said, 'This is not good. You’re treating me like an animal.'"

The nanny said the man’s wife told him, "You know, honey, we treat them as an idiot, not a human."

Police told Jose the courts would be unlikely to convict her employers because the injuries to her arms were consistent with those suffered by people who were constantly lifting and moving a patient.

The nanny said she was not interested in pursuing any abuse-related charges. Like Jose, all she wanted was to be paid the hours of overtime she is owed.

With files from the CBC's Natalie Clancy