Lebanese Labor Ministry Rejects Creation of Domestic Workers Union

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Migrant domestic workers of various nationalities use their mobile phones to take pictures during the launch of the first domestic workers union on January 25, 2015 at at the headquarters of the National Federation of Unions for Workers and Employees in Lebanon (FENASOL) in the Lebanese capital Beirut. AFP/Anwar Amro

Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Ministry of Labor called the formation of a union for domestic workers as “illegal” on Monday, a day after the National Federation of Labor Unions (NFLU) announced the establishment of the union in a conference.

“Advanced laws would solve the problems that the [migrant worker] sector is suffering from, not the formation of an illegal syndicate,” it said in a statement.

The NFLU submitted a proposal calling for the creation of a union for domestic workers on Sunday, dubbed the General Union of Cleaning Workers and Social Care.

NFLU’s proposal stipulates having a written contract between the employer and the employee, providing health insurance, acceptable living conditions, annual vacation, and fair compensation, and preventing employers who have previously mistreated migrant domestic workers from hiring a new worker.

By rejecting the proposal, which is in accordance with International Labor Organization’s Domestic Worker Convention, thousands of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon continue work without any legal protection.

Migrant domestic workers have struggled for years to obtain their most basic rights as they are not protected under Lebanon’s labor law. The law was misinterpreted to deny them their right to organize unions, despite the absence of an express provision that prohibit them from establishing a union.

On Sunday, more than 200 women took part in a conference aimed at establishing the domestic workers union.

The employment of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon is governed by a sponsorship or “kafala” system, which reinforces the status of migrant domestic workers as victims of human trafficking and forced labor.

Under the controversial system, migrant domestic workers are left at the mercy of their employers.

The system restricts workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless they obtain their employer's consent and forces them to hand over their passports to their employers, trapping many in abusive situations.

Living conditions can be so abysmal that some countries, including the Philippines, have forbidden their citizens from taking up new work contracts in Lebanon.

According to a September report by Lebanese rights organization KAFA, migrant domestic workers “are deceived [by the recruitment agencies] about their work and living conditions in Lebanon.”

Six percent of the migrant domestic workers surveyed said “they were promised different jobs such as security guards, secretaries, hospital or hotel employees, or freelance workers.” While 81 percent of those surveyed were “promised a specific salary,” 53 percent of them received “a lower amount.”

Moreover, “important information is either hidden from workers, or brokers and agents provide them with false or misinformation.” About 84 percent of the surveyed were “not informed about the working hours, 78 percent did not receive any information about weekly days off … 64 percent did not possess any information about the employer’s household … [and] 61 percent did not know whether or not they would be allowed to get in touch with their families.” Of the respondents, 82 percent “felt they were forced to work,” and 88 percent said they would not have come to Lebanon “had they fully known the reality.”

About 77 percent of those surveyed worked “at least 14 hours a day and were denied rest periods during the day.” Ninety percent were prohibited from “going out alone,” while 91 percent were “denied the right to a day off.”

Human rights organizations are determined to put an end to a wide range of human rights violations experienced in Lebanon by more than a quarter of a million migrant domestic workers – about five percent of Lebanon’s population.

In 2008, Human Rights Watch recorded one migrant domestic worker death per week from unnatural causes in Lebanon, including suicide.

(Al-Akhbar)

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