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#IWD2022: Tri-City MP believes there's room for better pay and working conditions for all women in care economy

Bonita Zarrillo is hoping women of all backgrounds in healthcare, childcare and labour can share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One in five jobs across Canada are in the care economy — healthcare, childcare, labour and personal support.

The majority of these positions, paid or unpaid, are filled by women and over the last two years, their dedication has shone brightly in the public eye realizing who the real heroes are during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As today (March 8) marks International Women's Day, Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo is beyond grateful for each and every one of them.

"I extend all of my gratitude to the very hard work that all of them have done, both in paid and unpaid work, to support all of us and care for us over these really difficult times."

However, not all care economy positions come with equal opportunity for women, especially immigrants and visible minorities.

According to a Statistics Canada study, immigrant women are more likely than immigrant men to work as housekeepers and cleaning supervisors — at 37 and 30 per cent respectively — and in other service occupations (29 per cent).

Zarrillo says this is concerning as these positions, as well as nurse aides, orderlies and associates, are typically part-time and either unpaid or low-paid.

"They do hold a big portion of the care positions, and they really are not paid at the level that they deserve," she tells the Tri-City News.

"And it's been overburdened and certainly undervalued. I feel it's important that we raise the fact that this is skilled and important work, and it needs to be compensated adequately. [...] That works needs to be protected."

Zarrillo currently serves as the lone NDP member on the feds' Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities — or HUMA for short.

Gender equity is a topic near and dear to the Tri-City MP and believes women in the care economy should be hailed as heroes that have supported the community the last two years.

Last month, she tabled a motion that's since kickstarted a new study and survey looking for care economy workers to submit personal testimonies about their day-to-day endeavours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More specifically, the committee is looking to hear first-hand experiences about working conditions, financial struggles and potential labour shortages.

"They'll uncover opportunities to highlight the value of that work, and to highlight the places that need to have investment and need to have fixes," Zarrillo further explains.

"One of them we know for sure, is the recognition of foreign credentials. That's an area I hear a lot of in this community is that people have foreign credentials that they're not able to use in Canada or it becomes very expensive for them to renew those credentials."

Personally, Zarrillo says she's heard from several workers that they love what they do and the people they care for.

But the pandemic has also taken a toll on their mental and emotional health as well.

"They're feeling burnt out, they're feeling very pressured, and you know, they're not being compensated adequately for the skill and the value that they bring to the work. So, one of the things I've been advocating for as the MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam is increasing those health care transfers to get the underpinning and the supports needed so that the superhuman effort that they've been putting in is compensated for and expects going forward."

You can click here to participate and find more information about the survey.

Interested witnesses are being asked to submit a written brief up to 4,000 words in length before the April 8 deadline.

"We definitely can't afford, as a society, to lose care workers," Zarrillo adds, "We need to support them in every way we can."