Guest contributor: Maqueita Hibbert (ISS Class of 2008)
During my undergraduate studies, I was awakened to the plight of the vulnerable in Canada’s labour market. Minority groups made up the lower portion of the pyramid that represented the labour force. These individuals worked in low-paid, precarious jobs with long hours, and are unable to earn a sufficient income to meet their needs.
In 2008, while completing my Master’s Research Paper at Ryerson University in Immigration and Settlement Studies, I had the opportunity to take a closer look at one sector – Personal Support Workers (PSWs), specifically black Caribbean women working in nursing homes across the GTA. This sector was mostly staffed by women of colour. The only way that they could be financially successful in the field was to work multiple jobs, overtime, and partake in work that was sometimes hazardous.
It has been 12 years since that paper was completed and based on recent observation, not a lot has changed. Then, black women in this field were subjected to limited social benefits and statutory entitlements, poor job security, low job tenure, low wages, and other occupational risks. Unfortunately, that continues today, and during COVID-19.
PSWs have played a critical role during the pandemic, supporting the health and well-being of our loved ones and seniors. The challenges that existed prior to the pandemic such as the precarious nature of their work has been heightened as many are now restricted to working in only one location, removing the additional income that they once relied on.
Despite their past and current sacrifices, black women who work as PSWs continue to be marginalized in this profession. Although some have become a registered practical nurse or a registered nurse, I think there remains a racial divide that leaves minority women at the bottom. In contrast, my observation is that Caucasian women predominantly enter at or rise to the top, occupying more positions of authority. Many black women are still entering this career path and, considering the longstanding and current challenges, I wonder why it is that black women are still choosing to enter and remain in this sector? Could the belief that blacks are best suited for particular jobs still governs the thoughts and actions of black women today?
Whether this is the case or not, the brutalities experienced by black people leading up to 2020 confirmed that oppressive structures are still present today. Although not always overt, racism is still evident in Canada.
What does this mean for us today? There remains a need to break down and address racism and racial inequalities. Improvement in this regard would remove racial inequality in the workplace, so that all workers have the same opportunity for advancement and progress. As we reflect on Black History Month this year and the history of blacks in our society, we should also reflect on the positive changes that need to be made so that blacks can finally feel the same level of inclusion and value that has long been afforded to our white counterparts.
The ISSAA would like to thank Maqueita for preparing this post. If you would like to contribute a guest post, please contact the ISSAA’s Communications Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.