SAT 26 - 9 - 2020
Date: Jun 16, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Improving plight of migrant domestic workers
The economic and financial crisis in Lebanon is impacting the lives of all Lebanese and has brought severe economic hardship to many Lebanese households. It has also brought to light more clearly than ever before the precarious situation, in which many migrant domestic workers find themselves in Lebanon.

We all have read about migrant domestic workers who were left in front of their embassy without their identification documents. Having lost their income and shelter, and unable to leave the country, many have ended up on the streets, in destitution and despair. Videos of women dangling from balconies and threatening to kill themselves, stories of workers left unpaid, abused or even found dead, have circulated widely on social media and have prompted outrage from international media, celebrities, and countless Lebanese.

We are impressed by the work of various NGOs that provide food and shelter to those that need it as well as spontaneous acts of solidarity by the Lebanese people.

The current economic and financial crisis highlights the many challenges of the kafala (sponsorship) system. These challenges have always existed, but are now amplified by the economic crisis and the COVID-19 health emergency. The set of laws, policies and practices known as the kafala system regulates employment and living arrangements of domestic workers.

It limits the role of the government in the regulation of the sector and makes foreign workers instead highly dependent on their employers. While many families treat their domestic workers with dignity, they do remain very vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to the nature of the kafala system.

At a time when large social movements such as Black Lives Matter have held a mirror to injustice in societies around the world, the encouraging news is that change for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon may be underway.

Under the leadership of former Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman and current Labor Minister Lamia Yammine, a group of experts, including the International Labor Organization as well as civil society organizations, has been tasked to elaborate concrete proposals to remove some of the exploitative aspects of the kafala system.

One of their first recommendations is to adopt a revised unified contract for the employment of domestic workers that complies with national laws and international standards. The proposed contract sets out workers’ leave entitlements, a minimum wage, freedom to organize and join associations and freedom of movement, including the right to leave the household during their rest breaks and days off, the worker’s ability to leave an abusive situation immediately and to freely terminate an employment relationship as employees can do in any other job subject to notice requirements in the contract.

The timing for the adoption of a revised contract for domestic workers in line with international labor and human rights standards is right. Not just because this crisis has made the urgency for change more visible. But also because Lebanon has become an outlier in a region where other countries have made substantial progress.

Jordan covers domestic workers under its labor law. Kuwait recently moved responsibility for migrant domestic workers from the Interior Ministry to a labor body. Qatar and the UAE have each adopted separate laws for domestic workers to ensure minimum guarantees and entitlements.

The changes proposed to the contract for the employment of domestic workers are not revolutionary but rather only a first step toward the dismantling of the kafala system. They will benefit Lebanese by providing clear regulations on how to employ domestic workers when they need support with household or care work. And they benefit migrant workers who come to Lebanon with the primary goal of supporting their families back home.

Regulating domestic work and ensuring that workers are treated with dignity will destigmatize this kind of work. A new contract that stipulates rights and obligations of both worker and employer, and that is enforced effectively by the government, therefore provides the foundation for a more just domestic work system that is beneficial for everyone in Lebanon.

On the occasion of the International Domestic Workers’ Day, Canadian Ambassador Emanuelle Lamoureux, Dutch Ambassador Jan Waltmans, Norwegian Ambassador Leni Stenseth, Swedish Ambassador Jorgen Lindstrom, Swiss Ambassador Monika Schmutz Kirgoz and UK Ambassador Chris Rampling

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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