Calgary researcher shines light on immigrant long-term care workers

A researcher at the University of Calgary is hoping a new project will shine a spotlight on the lives of long-term care workers in the city.

Most are immigrant women from places like Africa and the Philippines who fill low-paid positions, doing work that others simply aren’t willing to do.

Naomi Lightman’s latest project will find out more about the workers who fill these roles at long-term care facilities, hopefully influencing current and future policy.

“These women are doing essential work, caring for our loved ones and doing work that Canadian-born people have no interest in doing,” said Lightman.

The sociologist calls the work 3D: dirty, difficult and dangerous.

University of Calgary sociologist Naomi Lightman says she wants to give immigrant women workers a platform while gathering important data. (Rainer Soegtrop Photography)

She says the pandemic has people talking about long-term care facilities and workers more than ever, presenting an opportunity to talk about the inequalities and potential for improvements in the sector.

“Their voices have been absent and we’ll be developing a policy report that really foregrounds the voices of these women themselves,” said Lightman.

The work will create a better picture of long-term care workers, their wages and benefits, their well-being and how they compare with other health-care workers. It will also give them a platform to speak about their lives and challenges during the pandemic.

Lightman, who has been researching immigrant care workers for the past seven years, hopes the research will help improve wages and working conditions.

The Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association is partnering with Lightman, helping connect her with women working as health-care aides, via virtual interviews.

“A lot come from Southeast Asia and Africa,” said Marie-Solange Evehe, a program co-ordinator with association. 

“Back home, they used to be registered nurses and many came from other backgrounds. We even have a lawyer,” said Evehe.

Marie-Solange Evehe with the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association is partnering with Lightman on the research project, connecting the researcher with immigrant workers. (Submitted by Marie-Solange Evehe)

Evehe says the immigrant women working in long-term care facilities deserve more money for the work they do.

“I never knew what they go through, the kind of hard work involved. They barely make ends meet and it’s difficult for them,” she said.

“These women, they have a lot of passion for what they do.”

Evehe says the pandemic is a good opportunity to recognize how important long-term care workers are.

“These people deserve better. Will that be heard? Hopefully it will,” she said.

Interviews and data will be gathered by the end of May.

The report will be completed by the end of this summer.

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