A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History
OBSTACLES

Life is never easy for a refugee, and Ana Maria Seifert was no exception. Though she was highly schooled in her native Bolivia (including classes in medical school), she had no choice but to work in menial jobs when she arrived in Montreal. For many immigrants, particularly women, "sweat shop" work in the garment business has traditionally been available. The name "sweat shop" refers to the lousy working conditions that existed in many of these factories, where the women sewed clothes for low pay in overcrowded, poorly lit and ventilated factories - where they would break into "sweats." Thankful to have work of any kind, they seldom complained for fear of losing their jobs. Eventually, some women banded together, and forming unions, they helped improve working conditions in these sweat shops. Though working conditions for women in the garment industry today have greatly improved, it still could be better. Knowing this was one of the reasons Ana Maria chose to study "ergonomics' and work for the improvement of workplace health and safety.

Besides working in the garment industry, many South American immigrant women often become "chambermaids" or "domestics," particularly in Canada's hotel business. The low-paying (usually minimum wage) work requires little education and in some cases, it is not even necessary to have English (or French) language skills. This kind of work can at first seem attractive to a newly arrived South American women looking to bring in some money. It is work, they are being paid, and they know how to clean and "keep house," skills most Latin women have been taught starting when they were children. However, as they soon find out, this work can be tough, physically demanding with occupational hazards. Specifically, many chambermaids have developed severe back problems from repeated liftings of heavy things, and from the day-to-day toll of constantly making beds. Again, Ana Maria has seen the plight of her fellow immigrant women, and is working to improve their working conditions (and change some of their cleaning and lifting techniques) to reduce the occupational stresses for these working women.

Many Latin American refugees, both men and women, have faced obstacles in finding work in their original occupational fields. We know this, because according to census information, there is a big difference for many Latins in "intended occupation" upon first arrival, and "actual occupation" listed after they have been here for awhile. There are several reasons for this. As mentioned above, most of their university and professional accreditations have not been accepted here in Canada (Canada accepts very few foreign accreditations), so to practice in their field, they have to reeducate themselves. Secondly, during the period they arrived in the 1970s, many employers, (who were nervous about hiring immigrants or refugees), would put as a hiring requirment: "Applicant must have Canadian experience." Naturally, someone new to the country could not have Canadian experience (which the employer knew), and this was a successful way of blocking the hiring of immigrants for certain jobs, usually ones requiring the most skills. So poorly paid, labouring jobs would be open to them, while other more lucrative, demanding jobs would not.

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