Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Daily Star: Migrant domestic workers left unprotected despite reforms

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

BEIRUT: A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued this month reveals that although Lebanon has begun to introduce important reforms for migrant domestic workers’ rights it is still falling short of offering adequate protection mechanisms. As a result, around 200,000 women migrant domestic workers still remain largely unprotected by labor laws and are subsequently subject to exploitation and frequent abuse by employers and agencies, the HRW report titled “Slow Movement: Protection of Migrants’ Rights in 2009.”

In a landmark case last week, a Lebanese woman was sentenced by a Batroun court to 15 days in prison and a fine after being found guilty of beating her Filipino maid, yet the general response of the Lebanese government has proven to be “far from sufficient,” the report said.

Among the many complaints made by domestic workers, – most of which hailing from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia – are delayed payment of wages or total lack thereof, forced confinement to the workplace, no free time, and both verbal and physical abuse.

Lebanese labor laws specifically exclude domestic workers from rights guaranteed to other workers, such as paid holidays, and workers’ compensation.

As immigration sponsorship laws ties a domestic workers’ residency to a specific employer, it is near impossible for a domestic worker to change employers, even due to legitimate reasons such as non-payment or abuse, or to get access to the Lebanese justice system.

According to HRW’s report, temporary, employment-based visas which do not specify a migrant’s employer would facilitate the transfer of sponsorship.

Migrant workers rarely file complaints, as they fear detention on the basis of their illegal status, which they are automatically burdened with if their sponsors terminate their contract or they leave their employers.

In addition, disputes between employers and migrant workers often take years to be adjudicated by courts, which according to HRW could be remedied by enacting legislation that provides a “quick and simplified dispute resolution mechanism.”

HRW also recommends granting temporary visas in the case of pending legal procedures to combat the difficult conditions migrants workers face whilst being detained and avoiding detention beyond the terms of their sentence.

The Labor Ministry introduced a standard employment contract earlier this year that clarifies certain terms and conditions of employment for domestic workers, such as the maximum number of daily working hours, however, the need for a weekly day of rest, and paid sick leave lacks enforcement mechanisms.

The contract also leaves certain issues vague or omits them, such as a worker’s right to leave her employer’s house and to retain their passport.

In the report, HRW recommends that the Lebanese government “amends the labor code to provide comprehensive legal protection for domestic workers,” and calls upon the Labor Ministry to create an inspection unit tasked with monitoring working conditions for migrant domestic workers.

At least 45 migrant domestic workers died in Lebanon in 2008, most of whom due to suicide or attempting to escape.

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