MIGRANT DOMESTIC WORKERS IN LEBANON

Joanna Salibi

More than two hundred thousand migrant workers and approximately five percent of Lebanon’s population – most of them women from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia – work in Lebanese households. This type of employment is called domestic work and includes many tasks in private homes such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for children or elderly in the houses and running errands. They represent a large fraction of the workforce however they do not benefit from the same rights as other workers such as factory workers or local shop assistants.

The Lebanese Labour Laws established in 1946, still states until today in article 7 that domestic workers employed in private households are excluded from these laws. The laws include appropriate work conditions for employees such as minimum wage, maximum working hours, holiday or sick pay and the right for an unfairly treated employee to file a complaint to the ministry of labour. Most don’t even get a day off and if they do they are usually not allowed to leave their employers house. Human rights are defined by the United Nations as rights that are essential to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, ethnic origin, colour, religion or any other status. It is more than obvious that human rights are not respected in Lebanon, and one example out of many is the improper treatment of migrant domestic workers.

The employees usually travel to Lebanon hoping to find a profitable job due to the economic and social pressures in their own country as well as the lack of education. They have little knowledge of the work conditions, their rights or the migration process, which results in mistreatment by the agencies that are sending these workers as well as their employer. Migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse because of forced labour in private households, lack of legal protection and due to the fact that they are living in a foreign country where most of the time they do not speak the language. Many are forced to work and some employers forbid them from leaving the house while confiscating their passports and using violence or threats to control them and force them to work long hours with usually little pay or food.

The sponsorship system in Lebanon is what’s keeping the employees so imprisoned because it means that their immigrant status in the country is dependent on them working for a single employer who is legally responsible for them. As a result the majority of domestic workers live with their employers leaving them victims of human rights abuse. A survey (2010) with Lebanese employers of migrant domestic workers showed that 88% believed that the employer has the right to confiscate their passport, 31% of employers lock their domestic worker in the house when they go out and 80% do not allow their employee to leave the house on his or her day off. These numbers are shocking and should really open people’s eyes, no matter the nationality these employees are people and no Lebanese citizen should think that they are better than them or that they should be treated in a superior way.

Many employees have also reported experiencing physical, mental and sexual abuse; they were not receiving their salary and felt very restricted in their employer’s house. A female Nepali domestic worker was interviewed in Lebanon in 2010 and these were her exact words “ I did not even get enough food. Sometimes I only had bread and tea. I worked all day, with only bread and tea. One day, I asked for my full salary and I told madam not to send me to work at the houses of her friends and relatives, and I said that if you don’t give me my salary I will not work at all. After saying this, I was beaten right away. She even used shoes to beat me. My right hand was broken and there were bruises all over my body.” That is an example of pure slavery and it is one of the major causes of suicides for the poor employees having to deal with these conditions. According to a report by Human rights Watch, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are dying at a rate of more than one person per week. Many of the deaths are suicides, most of the rest are accidental deaths caused by workers falling from high buildings while attempting to run away form abusive employers. In 2008 Human Rights Watch reported that in just that year at least 95 migrant domestic died in Lebanon. Of these deaths 40 were classified as suicide, 24 caused by workers falling from high buildings, often trying to escape their employers and only 14 died because of disease of health issues.

The absence of protection of these workers has resulted in countries banning their nationals to travel to Lebanon for labour. Ethiopia officially bans citizens from coming to work in Lebanon, and migrant Philippines are permitted to travel legally only when they are earning a salary of at least 400$ US per month. Currently the set rate is 200$ US for Philippines, 100$ US for Africans and 150$ US for Sri Lankan workers monthly.  I don’t know where to begin because there are so many things wrong with this logic, for one they are extremely underpaid and secondly it is ridiculous that they receive their salary according to their nationality. Everyone should be getting equal rights, Lebanese or not.

I personally did not grow up in Lebanon, and to see the amount of racism in this country is unbelievable. I’m not saying that in North America there is no racism, but at least everyone has the same rights. In Lebanon migrant workers are practically slaves while abroad immigrants are getting an education and becoming employed like the rest of the citizens. For example, it’s normal to see doctors that originated from India overseas, or whites, Asians, and blacks all getting along however in Lebanon it’s very rare. I hardly see a Lebanese that associates with different races in a friendly manner, it’s very uncommon and you notice that people tend to stare if you do.

Here’s an summary of an article that I read that really disgusted me, I will never understand how humans can treat other beings in such a way:

On March 14th 2012, a poor Ethiopian woman committed suicide after she was seen being beaten and dragged by men in Lebanon outside the Ethiopian consulate. Her abuse was caught on film and shows her shouting “No, No, No.” and struggling to resist the men dragging her and forcing her into a car as many just stood and watched. Alem was the woman’s name, she was married and a mother of two children, she had only been in Lebanon for two months and arrived illegally since her country (Ethiopia) bans her to come work in Lebanon.

Here’s a video explaining Alem’s full story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykTB9VgXNtc

Finally to conclude, I passed around this mini survey to a couple students around the university just to see the overall mentality of some of the students. I only asked 10 students, so results could vary greatly with a larger student count.

Survey

  1. Are you aware that migrant workers in Lebanon aren’t entitled to the same labour laws as Lebanese citizens?
  2. Do you believe that migrant workers are treated as they should be in Lebanon?
  3. Do you think migrant workers are underpaid?
  4. Do you think the laws should be changed so that everyone has equal rights?
  5. Do you personally treat migrant workers how you treat a family member/friend?

 

This diagram shows the student’s response to every question. They were simple yes or no questions, the blue clearly stating if they answered yes and the red stating that they answered no in relation to every question.

 

  • 60 % are aware that migrant workers aren’t entitled to the same labour laws as Lebanese citizens.
  • 40% think that the workers are being treated correctly.
  • 40% think that the workers are underpaid.
  • 40% think migrant workers should have equal rights.
  • 20% treat migrant workers how they would treat a family member or friend.

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References

  1. https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-the-abuse-of-migrant-domestic-workers-in-lebanon
  2. http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/lebanons-migrant-domestic-workers-demand-equal-rights/
  3. http://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/docs/710/Labour%20Code%20of%2023%20September%201946%20as%20amended.Publication%202010.pdf
  4. http://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/pages/whatarehumanrights.aspx
  5. https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-the-abuse-of-migrant-domestic-workers-in-lebanon
  6. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/LebanonCodeOfConduct.aspx
  7. http://www.irinnews.org/report/78865/lebanon-few-rights-low-pay-for-200-000-migrant-domestic-workers
  8. http://www.antislavery.org/includes/documents/cm_docs/2013/m/mdw_fact_sheet.pdf

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

  1. Nice article Joanna ! Thank you for raising this important question! Racism is a big problem in Lebanon, and the hierarchy of social classes too.

  2. I’m sorry, i know this is a reality in Lebanon and the Arab World, but please not all Lebanese treat workers the same way. There are families who are fair and just.

    1. its true,mariam there family not fair for there household workers but some of them have good to us like me im serving her for 10 yrs in lebanon they are nice to me treat me like there family but sad to say i know some ,they lock up in the house no day-off no cellphone allowed and most little food and the salary not good they did not follow whats in that paper they follow the agencies what they told u cannot speak by your self because some employers hurt u,and lack of sleep…sometimes they prefer to be silent…..

  3. It is truly shameful how some people treat their domestic workers. I have seen it, I have spoken against it. Until the Arab world understands the meaning of Humanity, Humanness, and what it entails to be a true Human Being, we will continue to witness unjust treatment of men, women and children who hail from those countries.
    If only those Arabs knew how it feels to be so low on the Totem Pole, I think they would sing a very different tune. But we can hope that we are becoming more aware of our arrogance and learning to be honorable in the true sense of the word, treating other human beings as we ourselves would expect to be treated.

  4. Joanna is one of my students at USEK. She did an excellent work.
    For more information, there is an amazing study by Michael Young in 4 chapters:
    http://www.lnf.org.lb/migrationnetwork/mig1.html
    There is much more awareness nowadays, but a lot more still needs to be done in terms of putting pressure on lawmakers to change existing laws that give little in the way of legal protection to Lebanon’s foreign domestic workers.
    “Lebanese society is gradually changing for the better in its dealings with and attitudes towards migrant workers. This does not mean that an optimal situation has been reached. However, migrant workers have a more balanced presence in Lebanese society than they did previously. Their networks have developed, several Lebanese and other organizations function on their behalf, and public consciousness has been repeatedly confronted with tales of the abuse suffered particularly by domestic workers. The notion of the ‘new slavery’ is comprehensible for many more people than was the case before. There is now some embarrassment in having it known that one mistreated a domestic worker.
    One thing must be remembered, however: the mistreatment of migrant workers need not imply that they are specifically targeted because of their ethnic characteristics. The accusation that most Lebanese are racists is not a satisfactory explanation for abuse. As one lawyer put it: “You do not, if you are a kindly person, suddenly mistreat your servant because she is of a different color.” In other words, the problems facing migrant workers in Lebanon, though linked to an often unhealthy hierarchical situation, are often symptomatic of problems affecting non-Lebanese and Lebanese alike.
    Indeed, if an employer beats a domestic worker, the chances are that he would not hesitate to beat his wife or children. If a domestic worker is mistreated by a policeman, then there is a very good chance that so too are Lebanese or other Arab detainees. Migrants may well be paid meager wages, but there are countless examples of Lebanese citizens who, despite the protection of the law, are paid low wages and asked to work for long hours. The treatment an employee receives is, in the end, largely a function of the nature of his or her employer”.

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