INTERCEDE for the Rights of Domestic Workers, Caregivers and Newcomers

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In 1979 a diverse group of Toronto feminists responded to the call of foreign domestic workers for support in fighting discrimination in government policies and unfair treatment by their employers. INTERCEDE was formed as a volunteer advocacy group of foreign domestic workers and their feminist supporters to raise awareness and lobby for changes in federal and provincial legislation.

A diverse cross section of domestic workers from the Caribbean, the UK and the Philippines became active in INTERCEDE and worked with their allies to define their goals and aspirations. Central to their position was the demand that Canada recognize the value of their work in the private homes of the nation and their right to stay in Canada permanently because of the strong labour market demand for their services. Their rallying cry was “Good enough to work, good enough to stay.”

INTERCEDE mobilized public support in the media and in social justice circles for the demand that foreign domestic workers be given a path to permanent status in Canada by reforming the federal program under which they were recruited to come here only as temporary workers. In 1981 the lobby effort, which had become national in scope, resulted in historic changes to the federal program which opened a path to landed immigrant status and eventually citizenship for thousands of foreign domestic workers who otherwise would have had to leave Canada. No other temporary foreign workers have ever won the same path to a permanent future in Canada, before or since. It remains the crowning achievement of INTERCEDE whose core position was that due to labour market demand domestic workers deserved to come to Canada as permanent residents rather than as temporary workers.

Further lobbying campaigns followed and led to reforms in the provincial Employment Standards Act which gave foreign domestic workers rudimentary protections that rendered them less vulnerable in the workplace. Similar efforts took place in other provinces with some notable gains which gave foreign domestic workers tools to seek redress from unfair and sometimes exploitative employers.

INTERCEDE responded to other urgent needs such as legal advice on immigration matters, counseling on employer related problems, referrals to educational retraining programs, etc. In 1984, federal funding helped establish the INTERCEDE Service Unit which worked in collaboration with volunteers, such as law students from Osgoode Hall Law School, to provide free legal advice and other much needed services. INTERCEDE produced written booklets about labour rights and immigration policies and procedures which were widely disseminated and available free of charge.

In time, INTERCEDE came to focus less on lobbying campaigns for domestic workers’ rights and more on service work: newcomer integration and settlement counseling; training in job skills, leadership and advocacy; and community development and support programs. As the range of services expanded, funding was secured from all three levels of government and the programs continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s. However, due to changes in funding priorities, in 2011 INTERCEDE’s services were assumed by Toronto’s Working Women Community Centre, an award-winning settlement agency serving immigrant women, funded by the federal Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship as well as other governmental and non-governmental sources.

INTERCEDE was a beacon that drew foreign domestic workers, across ethnic and racial lines, to work in partnership with their feminist allies. This helped them raise their voices against exploitation and fight for their rights as immigrant workers, with public support from the wider community. As a result, thousands of foreign domestic workers have continued to enter Canada with the unprecedented opportunity to remain here permanently and make a life for themselves and their families.

Judith Ramirez, a founder and coordinator of INTERCEDE 1979-1988

(Note: name changes in 1994)

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