CanadaPolitics

‘Hustle Queen’ examines immigrant workers with multiple jobs in Canada

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It’s five in the morning and the sun is peeking out through the skyline of downtown Toronto. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the incessant buzzing sounds of alarm clocks serving a reminder: it’s time to grind out the day’s work. While it’s rise and shine in the city, the painful reality checks in for many.

“Carmen,” a Filipina who has been in Canada for 17 years, works not one, or two, but three jobs, working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Carmen, who requested to conceal her real identity, was more than willing to paint the brush strokes of an immigrant life like hers.

Juggling one job after another is a reality for millions of workers in Canada, a reality being recognized this International Worker’s Day.

“I sleep only for 4 hours a day and I don’t have a day off,” said Carmen, whose full-time jobs include being a server in a coffee shop and a nanny, while also doing part-time work as a home cleaner.

Click here to watch the full special.

But why is one job not enough for many immigrant workers in a country with a rich economy, and one that many call the land of hope and opportunity?

To begin answering that question we need to examine the city she lives in. For one, she lives in Toronto, where there is a diverse range of jobs, but the cost of living is likely higher than anywhere else in the country. Carmen’s rent seems to be her heaviest burden, but with inflation, food prices are also taking out more money from her pockets than usual.

Carmen also needs to support her family back home in the Philippines, where poverty is prevalent. Remittances are an added expense that Carmen said non-immigrants typically don’t have to deal with, but is a huge financial load that often rests on the shoulders of immigrants. She has been doing this for the past 17 years.

“My mother is 80 years old, and I have a sister with disability. I send them money every week. Sometimes I also help my siblings and their family.”

She admits that her jobs are already taking a toll on her personal well-being.

With bills piling up, inflation hitting hard, and remittances back home that cannot be stopped, she can only hope that her fragile body can still take all the beating she’s getting from hustling three jobs a day.

“My blood pressure is now borderline high. It’s not good because sometimes I lack sleep, and my body is so tired.”

LOST QUALITY OF LIFE

Ontario social worker Liezl Sebial said many Filipino immigrants also came to Canada with debt from the Philippines, money that they used as a lifeline to survive as a newcomer with no Canadian job experience and credit history to show for.

“They’re left with no choice. It’s either they do that (multiple jobs) or they’re not going to survive. Because they also risked the life they had in the Philippines to come here. So, they need to prove to themselves, ‘I made the right decision. I have to do whatever it takes to make it here,’” Sebial said.

“I know some people who are sleeping in the car, changing clothes in the car, because they go from one job to another job, and then another job. Then just go home and do the laundry, and then do the same things again. The quality of life is lost,” she added.

Sebial also said engaging in extremely long hours of work could result in families being broken apart.

“It can manifest into domestic issues within the husband and wife, leading to cheating, falling in love with a co-worker and that’s where the Filipino family disintegrates.”

“The effect on children is also significant. Some of them end up with bad company of friends, they end up in addiction, they end up not going to school, or getting married early … to be able to build their own family because they long for that belongingness,” shared Sebial who has been working with Filipino families for 15 years.

NEGLECTED PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH

Dr. Ben Pangilinan Jr., a medical doctor from Vaughan, Ontario, said people with multiple jobs often manifest poor health sooner or later in life.

“Many of them are starting to develop diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Many of them also have sleep problems, sleep apnea, and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.”

According to Dr. Pangilinan, if these ailments are left unchecked, they can eventually lead to death.

“When diabetes is not controlled and it’s in the latter end of the disease process, then it could cause problems with the heart, leading to heart attacks, or could cause strokes, or it could also lead to kidney failure, that would require them to undergo dialysis. So, they do become fatal if not controlled.”

In a research study conducted by University College of London in 2015, it revealed that those who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13 per cent greater risk of a heart attack and were 33 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke.

The following year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that 1.5 million people died globally due to work related diseases.

MULTIPLE JOBS BUT NO SAVINGS

For many working immigrants who have multiple jobs, the reality is they have no savings to show for their years of labour. Financial professional, Bayani Nadua, said it’s a reality many immigrants are left with and it can happen for multiple reasons, which include living an immoderate lifestyle, wrong spending habits and lack of financial literacy.

“What really needs to be done is to budget, have a monthly budget. The rule of thumb is actually to set aside every month until you’re able to save about 3-6 months’ worth of your monthly salary.”

“So aside from saving, know where to save, know how to save, and then (financial) education, the strongest means is to educate yourself,” Nadua said.

DIFFICULT LIFE TO BALANCE

Sebial believes it’s going to be a difficult balance for immigrant workers like Carmen who have become trapped between a world of financial obligations and an economy that makes it harder for low-income earners to thrive.

“If you will ask me about quality of life, for me it’s about family. I think after the pandemic, we realized, quality of life is really about living healthy, having your family beside you, because material things come and go.”

A MILLION WITH MULTIPLE JOBS

August 2023 data from Statistics Canada showed that about one million people in the country held multiple jobs, with recent immigrants more likely than Canadian-born population to do multiple jobs.

Over half of immigrant workers admitted to Canada in the last 10 years held multiple jobs to pay for essential needs. Among racialized Canadians, multiple job holders were notably high among Arab (76.2 per cent), Latin American (63.1 per cent), and Filipino workers (51.4 per cent).  

In a January poll conducted by Angus Reid Institute, three out of every five Canadians have said that they are unable to keep up with the high cost of living in the country, while people living in rental housing report a lower quality of life compared with those living in a home owned by someone in the household, according to Statistics Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with Breakfast Television and acknowledged the seemingly more difficult life in Canada post-pandemic, though he said his government will do what it can to help all Canadians.

“The world is in a really tough place right now, and its hard for Canadians … Grocery prices, difficulty in housing, and there’s a huge number of pressures that we are very much working on,” Trudeau said.

Working non-stop and quite like a machine for the past 17 years, Carmen admits she’s tired. But the only way she said she will stop, is when she’s eventually too old and weak to work at her current pace.

Despite it all, Carmen remains optimistic and grateful for her current situation.

“I guess I can say to myself, good job, you’ve brought your family here, at least life isn’t that hard compared to others. Not really wealthy, but at least you can eat what you want, you can help and you’ve saved a little. Good job to me!” Carmen said.

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