Lebanon introduces new labour rights for domestic workers

Rights groups welcome Lebanon's new domestic workers protections but say kafala system 'must end'
2 min read
09 September, 2020
Lebanon has made important labour law changes but human rights say that more must be done.
Scores of domestic workers were forced to live on the streets after
Lebanon has introduced changes to contract law for foreign domestic workers, news that has been initially welcomed by human rights groups but who say the controversial kafala system must end.

Details of the new contract have not been revealed but likely to address some of the numerous criticisms over the treatment of the country's 250,000 domestic workers, mostly from South Asia and Africa. 

Caretaker Labour Minister Lamia Yammine said in a tweet that the law would allow migrant workers to "obtain all their contractual rights and benefit from the broadest social protections".
The contract also "enshrines the rights" for foreign workers, who are not covered by Lebanon's national labour law, which includes a minimum wage, overtime, and the right to assembly.

Human rights groups have welcomed the move but say the priority of the government should be to abolish kafala system, a sponsorship scheme that ultimately ties workers to their employers.

This leaves domestic workers subject to various human rights abuses such as violence and withholding pay.

"Having a brilliant contract according to international standards without a proper enforcement mechanism is only ink on paper," Amnesty International's Lebanon campaigner, Diala Haidar, told Thoman Reuters Foundation.

"As we're seeing today a number of workers were abandoned by their employers on the street without wages, without luggage, without passports, and no employer was held to account."

The Beirut blast and economic crisis have brought the issue of domestic workers in Lebanon under the spotlight.

International media covered the plight of scores of Ethiopians who were forced to live on the streets after they were turfed out of their homes by employers.

Zeina Ammar, of the Lebanese migrant rights group Anti-Racism Movement, told the agency that the changes hinge on the details on the law and its implementation.

"One of the main problems that still exists because of kafala is that the worker is living most of the time with her employer behind closed doors," Ammar said.

"Effectively this means as soon as I close the door nobody knows if I am enforcing the contract or not."

A number of countries in the region are the addressing criticisms levied at them regarding the treatment of foreign workers.

Qatar this week announced it would abolish the kafala system, a move welcomed by rights groups.

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