Monday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m. GMT:
There are around 250,000 domestic workers in Lebanon, and around 99% of them are immigrants with work permits. The majority are women from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, earning meager wages.
They work under the kafala – or sponsorship – system, which has been likened to modern slavery. The system is a restrictive regime of laws and regulations that ties the legal residency of migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers without permission risk losing their legal residency and risk detention or deportation. The UN and other human rights groups have repeatedly called for its dismantling.
There have been reform efforts, however. The Lebanese Ministry of Labor adopted in 2020 a new standard contract for domestic workers which guaranteed overtime pay, sick pay, annual leave and the national minimum wage. It also allows workers to leave their jobs without the consent of their employer. But, to the dismay of rights groups, it was never implemented.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in January said a major reason for the failure to abolish the system was that it was a very lucrative business for some. “A study revealed that the kafala system generates more than 100 million US dollars per year. Recruitment agencies… forced labor and human trafficking generate $57.5 million in revenue annually,” HRW said.
Last week, a viral video of a Lebanese man abusing a domestic worker reignited the conversation about workers’ rights in Lebanon, the kafala system and the impact of Lebanon’s unprecedented economic downturn.
In this episode, we will revisit the plight of domestic workers in Lebanon amid the worsening crises in the country.
On this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Aya Majzoub, @Aya_Majzoub
Lebanon Researcher, Human Rights Watch
Roula Seghaier, @IDWFED
Strategic Program Coordinator, International Federation of Domestic Workers (IDWF)