The following is The Daily Star article on Labor Day march and protests for the rights of domestic workers. There's little coverage unfortunately in other newspapers because of Sunday's municipal elections. For more campaign coverage: http://twenty-four-7.org/
Labor Day march protests ill treatment of domestic workers
By Richard Hall, Daily Star staff, Monday, May 03, 2010
BEIRUT: Dozens of protesters gathered in Ain al-Mreisseh Square on Saturday to demonstrate against the poor treatment of migrant workers in Lebanon, one of a number of events taking place across the city to mark Labor Day.
“We want all workers to know they are not alone, and there are many people who want to help” said Theresa, a domestic worker from the Philippines taking part in the demonstration.
Protesters marched from Qarantina Bridge to Ain al-Mreisseh square carrying placards and shouting slogans before an outdoor concert was held on the Corniche. Those taking part were a mix of students, migrant workers and sympathetic citizens. An Asian and African food festival was held earlier in the day in an effort to encourage cultural exchange.
“We had 24 hours of activities based on two main ideas,” said Hayeon Lee, an organizer of the day’s events. “One is working in terms of human rights, highlighting the poor treatment of migrant workers. On the other hand it is about sharing culture and celebrating diversity.”
The events held on Labor Day were the culmination of a week-long campaign called “24/7,” which used the Internet to raise awareness about the treatment of migrant workers in Lebanon.
There are believed to be around 200,000 female migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, as well as an unknown number of male Egyptian and Syrian laborers. Lebanese labor laws such as the minimum wage and one day off a week do not apply to migrant workers, leaving the majority denied of these rights.
A report released by Human Rights Watch on Thursday said women working in private homes often work 20-hour days, face forced confinement and are sometimes physically and sexually abused. Their passports are confiscated upon arrival, leaving employers in full control of their house maids’ lives under what is known as a “sponsorship system.” A 2009 report from the New York based rights organization said more than one female migrant worker dies a week on average in Lebanon.
Theresa has been in Lebanon for 19 years. She says she is treated well by her employers, but many of her friends suffer from unfair working conditions. “This is the first time I have joined the march,” she said, “I’m so glad to be a part of it so we can make others aware.”
Another migrant worker attending the protest said she had personally suffered at the hands of cruel employers in the past. “My first employer in this country didn’t allow me to have a day off in two years. I worked from early in the morning until late at night,” said Joan, who arrived in Lebanon 12 years ago.
Joan says that during the period she was treated badly by her employers, she was unaware of any organizations that could help her.
“It was only after I left my employment with these people and found a job with better employers that I realized that there are organizations who can help,” she said.