Labour on the frontlines for affordable childcare

By Daniel Tseghay
Rankandfile.ca‘s British Columbia writer-organizer

Across Canada, finding adequate childcare is becoming increasingly difficult. There’s a shortage of licensed spaces and, even when one is available, the costs are a hurdle for most families. People are paying between $800 a $1,000 a month, creating a situation where less than 20 percent of the children in BC who need childcare can access it.

According to Michael Lanier, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1936, representing community social service workers in the greater Vancouver area, “there are wait lists in many of the licensed childcares [facilities] that are three or five years long.”

One of the $10/day childcare rallies in BC, May 9 2015.
One of the $10/day childcare rallies in BC, May 9 2015.

“Most often people are encouraged to sign up as soon as they’re pregnant. If they’re lucky their child space will come open for them sometime before their child is ready for kindergarten,” said Lanier in an interview with Rankandfile.ca.

Lanier, who also sits on the City of Vancouver’s joint childcare council, recalls his own experience struggling with accessing childcare. “When my daughter was born I arranged my work life to help to be available,” he said. “That affected my potential pay rate and my eventual retirement. It means that later down the road, as you’ve had to make choices about how you will take care of your children, either my wife or I would be off work to deal with things.”

Lanier underscores the effect childcare inadmissibility has on workers. If a family can find childcare, it remains so expensive that it reduces family income and potentially forces parents to take additional hours. It might also determine who works outside the home and who works within it. “Whoever can earn the highest income winds up being the one working and the other winds up being the caregiver because it’s just too expensive,” he points out. This might, in turn, entrench traditional gender roles since women are still paid less and have fewer opportunities to rise to better positions within the workplace.

Immigrant families are especially affected. Because childcare is so expensive, many, says Lanier, feel compelled “to sponsor [their] parents or grandparents just so they can help look after the children in [the] family.”

“We’d like to see that families come as a unit, that they can be reunited with their extended relatives, but they shouldn’t have to come into the country in order to be the childcare resource.”

Childcare unaffordability is deepening what he calls an exploitative system of wealthy families employing migrant caregivers. dsc_0657“Often these are nannies from the Philippines and are very rarely paid a decent wage,” he says. “The very lack of childcare means we wind up with an entire industry built around bringing people in from other countries, looking to improve their lives, and they’re brought here and exploited.”

And so CUPE, along with other unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unifor, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Labour Congress, the BC Federation of Labour, have formed a multi-union coalition with other community partners to fight for a national childcare plan. In alliance with the Rethink Child Care and the Ten a Day Child Care campaigns, Lanier and other labour leaders are hoping to connect the dots between the lives of workers in their shops and their homes and public employees caring for those children.

“We’d like to see a national childcare plan that creates enough licensed, quality, publicly-funded and unionized childcare spaces for the need that exists in this country.”

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