Monday, October 17, 2011

UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to government: Enact legislation to protect the 200,000 domestic workers

Special report by Wissam / Ethiopian Suicides

On 17 October 2011, I attended the meeting of UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Slavery, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, at the OHCHR in Beirut. She was briefing civil society members on her findings and recommendations. The following are some points raised during the meeting. The news release follows.

Some of Ms. Shahinian’s talking points:
  • We need a National Plan of Action with dedicated government funding.
  • There is a responsibility for sending country, to prepare the ground for avoiding tension when the worker arrives to Lebanon.
  • But this is not enough. Ms. Shahinian recommended that in the first month of presence in Lebanon, there is a need for one month of reconciling where the migrant workers discovers Lebanon, the culture and the language.
  • Prevention: we need educational programs for all government entities where MDWs apply for assistance or for documents.
  • We need programs on anti-racism. We need to introduce special lessons for schools for children who are part of the family and are in touch with MDWs.
  • Ms. Shahinian was for a dedicated legislation outside of labor law.
  • The unified contract requires enforcement, and then amendment to adapt to the needs of the domestic worker.
  • I recommend that domestic workers have monthly private interviews with their agency; to go out of the house for that interview.
  • We need special consulting for the families, a social worker who talk
  • The visa should not be tied to work. Extended stay by one or two months is important, after termination of contract. To be able to seek new jobs.
  • An agency should be established other than the General Security to receive complaints and play a role that the General Security cannot play because it is a law enforcement agency.
  • We need a hotline which is working (we have one which is not functioning).
  • Safe environment for migrant domestic workers children should be provided.
There was no suggestion to abolish the sponsorship system because, as Ms. Shahinian indicated, she did not have time to explore the alternatives to the sponsorship system.

Next step foreseen, Ms. Shahinian will write the report and share it with the government for feedback. Report due to be submitted to the UN Human Right Council in June 2012, and is to be discussed in September 2012.

Feedback by some participants:
  • The day off allowed by the new contracts is “day off” according to labor law, and does not stipulate an optional “day off” which takes into consideration that the employer’s home is the domestic worker’s home.
  • The Notary are not reading the unified contract to the Lebanese, because it cannot be changed. The Lebanese are not aware of the content of the contract and the rights of the domestic worker!
  • We need to replace the Kafala Sponsorship system with a contract, along with a renting contract with the employer should the MDW! But Ms. Shahinian asked if a migrant domestic workers can afford renting a place if they get a “full” salary and want to live outside of the employer’s house.
  • There was a proposal to have a functioning National Employment Office, semi-public, like in Honk Kong.

Official News Release

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are legally invisible – UN expert on contemporary forms of slavery

BEIRUT (17 October 2011) – United Nations Special Rapporteur, Gulnara Shahinian, today urged the Government of Lebanon to enact legislation to protect some 200,000 domestic workers in the country, warning that without legal protection some of them end up living in domestic servitude, under absolute control and dependency on their employers through economic exploitation and physical, psychological and sexual abuses.

“Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, majority of whom are women are legally invisible which makes them acutely vulnerable to domestic servitude,” said the UN expert monitoring contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, at the end of her first visit the country. “The migrant domestic worker is required to live in their employer’s households, faces racial and gender discrimination and is deprived of the necessary legal protection to safeguard their rights.”

“I met with women who had been forced to work long hours without any remuneration or valid contract; physically and sexually abused; and morally harassed by constantly being insulted, humiliated and belittled,” Ms. Shahinian said stressing that the lack of legal protection leaves domestic workers vulnerable to domestic servitude at the hands of recruitment and placement agencies and ultimately at the hands of their employers.

The UN Special Rapporteur urged the Lebanese authorities to ensure that domestic workers obtain legal protection and have prompt and immediate access to remedies and justice, and that employers are aware of their obligations when recruiting domestic workers.

Ms. Shahinian noted that the Government has taken some positive measures such as the establishment of a hotline for receiving calls. A national steering committee was also formed to address the issue of migrant domestic workers. The committee succeeded in developing a standard unified contract and a new draft law for migrant domestic workers.

“This law has been in its drafting stage for the past three years and it is now time that it be made a priority by the government. The law needs to balance the rights and obligations of both the employer and employee. It also needs to explicitly guarantee that migrant domestic workers are allowed to keep their passports, have freedom of movement, a day off outside the employers’ house, adequate private lodging and fair wages” the UN expert said. “It also needs to establish criteria of what a potential employer must have and include specific provisions on how recruitment agencies are to conduct their work and be monitored.”

“Currently, the visa regime is such that if a domestic worker leaves an employer, she immediately breaks the law. In the case of a domestic worker held in domestic servitude, she is, as a result, treated as a criminal instead of a victim of human rights violations,” Ms. Shahinian said.

The human rights expert underscored that migrant domestic workers provide an indispensable contribution to society that allows many Lebanese women to leave their homes, gain economic independence and develop their careers. “If fair labour practices and human rights protections are ensured, the sector can offer domestic workers opportunities to earn an additional salary for themselves and their families and to have the opportunity to experience another country and culture.”

Ms. Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Independent Expert:

UN Human Rights country page – Lebanon:

1 comment:

  1. the matter of domestic helpers in lebanon is highly misunderstood... its true that there are few cases of mistreatment but also in the countries of these domestic helpers their governments and even their families mistreat them worse than their employers.... is it better for a human being to die of hunger or to be thrown in the street or to be forced into prostitution or to become a beggar? or is it better to work and be kept well and fed and given money? this is not the place to discuss this issue in a sensational manner... the united nations international labor organization should hold an international conference on this matter and come up with a concensus on what is considered as proper so all countries can apply it... if the countries that export laborers pledge to feed and treat well their citizens i dont think that her citizens will want to go overseas to work... the workers know better what is good for them and not the people who make it their jobs to criticize domestic employers in lebanon... i say to all the people who criticize domestic employers in lebanon or anywhere else in the world to go feed the families of those workers and to educate them and give them jobs!!!!!!!!!!!!