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Examining the labour market transitions to Personal Support Worker roles among Filipina women

Examining the labour market transitions to Personal Support Worker roles among Filipina women

Nikki Mary Pagaling

by Nikki Mary Pagaling

The lowest rung of the Canadian healthcare workforce is occupied by nurse aides, also known as personal support workers (PSWS). They perform a range of direct care tasks associated with daily living, and are employed in various settings, including institutional facilities like long-term care, or in the private homes of their clients. Despite the crucial role they play in supporting elderly populations, PSW work is viewed as “low-status” and is characterized by multiple dimensions of precarity, including inadequate compensation, precarious employment status, inadequate health and wellness benefits, and challenging working conditions.

In the context of the PSW industry, the devaluation of care labour is problematic given that this labour force is highly racialized and gendered, with Filipina women comprising a large proportion of the workforce. In Toronto, immigrants constitute 78.7% of the PSW workforce, with the vast majority being immigrant women. Among them, Filipina women make up 30% of the labor force (Turcottes and Savage, 2020).

My research seeks to understand how an overconcentration of Filipina workers in PSW occupations has come about, and thereby point towards how labour markets might be made more equitable. It builds off of existing studies that suggests migration into Canada through a temporary foreign caregiver program is a central factor in channeling Filipina immigrants into care occupations like PSW. Key among these was the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), which required participants to live and work in the home of their employer as a caregiver for 24 months before becoming eligible for an open work permit and permanent resident status (PR). The program was consistently dominated by Filipina women, who accounted for 90% of arrivals throughout the program’s lifetime. The structural conditions of the LCP severely truncated caregivers’ mobility, as caregivers under the auspices of the LCP were not allowed to seek employment outside of care work, nor could they attend training and/or education programs longer than six months. And in addition to living with their employer, they could not migrate with their family members. Because of these conditions, LCP caregivers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and experienced a host of social and economic challenges when transitioning out of the program, including reuniting with family members, finding work that aligns with education and professional experiences, and increased financial responsibilities.

Existing research demonstrates how the institutional and social challenges of transitioning from one form of citizenship to another are further compounded by race-based and gendered discrimination in the open labour market, which helps explain why Filipina former-caregivers become concentrated in niche occupational segments after receiving PR status. A notable study led by Filipina women’s’ organization, Gabriela-Ontario, on the post- caregiver programs outcomes of Filipina migrant caregivers found that although the number of LCP-caregivers in caregiving roles decreased the longer they had permanent resident status, caregiving remained among the most prominent employment categories. This is in spite of the fact that caregivers from the Philippines have particularly high levels of education and professional experience. Interestingly, this study also found that the number of LCP-caregivers in the PSW sector increased from 2% to 18% over the course of 10 years, eventually becoming the most prominent occupation. Given this context, the channeling of Filipina former caregivers into PSW occupations demands further investigation.

Through qualitative interviews with Filipina PSWs, community informants, and PSW educators, my master’s thesis will investigate how the caregiver-to-PSW pathway is socially and spatially constituted in the local labour market and within the lifeworlds of Filipina former-caregivers. This work calls attention to the assemblage of processes, sites, and actors that regulate segmentation into the PSW workforce. Here, I ask, what are the social networks, flows of information, familial obligations, and civic/grassroots resources available that shape Filipina women’s post-caregiver program labour market options? How are their range of employment options constricted or broadened? Furthermore, what are the discourses that are scripted onto constructions of PSW subjectivities, and how do such discourses converge with notions of Filipina identities? By shedding light on the experiences of Filipina PSWs, I hope that this research will enhance understandings of post-caregiver program labour market outcomes, highlight the contributions of Filipina women in the Canadian healthcare system, and contribute to an understanding of the ways in which immigrant women’s precarity in the labour market is tied to Canada’s temporary labour migration programs.


Nikki Mary Pagaling is a SSHRC-funded Master of Arts student in the Department of Geography. Her graduate research involves questions around the spatialities of gendered and racialized labour segmentation processes amongst Filipina immigrants in Canada. She is also the Media and Research Coordinator of the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, where she supports the centre's media, communications, and  knowledge mobilization needs.