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Opinion letter: Immigrant workers deserve fairness on wages

In 2021, COVID-19 had shaken up the flow of work.  I was looking for a job before classes resumed at the Université de Moncton. I was living in Dieppe at the time, and there was a special care home nearby. I started work at the minimum wage of $12.50 per hour and was told that after 6 months there would be a $1 increase. Duties included assisting the elderly with their needs, bathing, serving, clearing and cleaning tables, answering bells, taking blood pressures and keeping supervisors informed of the condition of the residents. Some require much more assistance and attention because they are living with dementia and lack full physical capacity.

Care work is largely done by women, and disproportionately immigrant women, such as myself. It is a low-paying job that requires a lot of physical effort, significant skills, great responsibility, and challenging working conditions. This was the case in my special care home, where the majority of the staff were immigrant women and the management at the time was male. As a caregiver with such a low salary, it is difficult if not impossible to support yourself.

Is it worth being poorer for an essential job assisting the elderly?

Many immigrants find themselves in this situation when they move to New Brunswick, unfamiliar with how companies operate with regards to pay, and the jobs available are those that pay less, including community-based care work. Often, they are employed in the same job for lower wages - as wages are a taboo subject, many will not disclose how much they are paid for fear of losing their job.

Care work needs to be valued as it is the last refuge for seniors whose only contact is with personnel day and night. Businesses are seeking labour from abroad to fill this caregiving role, and government must be the essential fuel to invest in this work every year.  Employers must provide an equitable workplace for all their employees regardless of citizenship status, and government must be the fuel to invest in this work each year and ensure fair wages.

Aissatou Diyo Diakite