In Lebanon, people working in private households are excluded from the protection of labor law.
More than 200,000 migrant workers, mainly women, work in Lebanese households. Although they constitute a large proportion of the workforce, they do not enjoy the same rights as, for example, local shop assistants or factory workers.
A Code of Conduct, launched in June 2013, now provides guidance to recruiting agencies on promoting and protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers in the country.
Developed in consultation with the Middle East Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Code of Conduct was jointly put together by the Lebanese Ministry of Labor, the Syndicate of Owners of Recruitment Agencies in Lebanon (SORAL) and Caritas Lebanon's Migrant Center.
"This Code of Conduct is the result of two-years efforts to find a common ground between protecting the community's weakest links, migrant domestic workers, and safeguarding the interest of recruitment agencies," said OHCHR human rights expert Nidal Jurdi during a recent press conference, announcing the launch of the Code of Conduct.
Funded by the European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the 55-page booklet is part of OHCHR and ILO's ongoing efforts to protect and promote the rights of domestic workers in Lebanon. Under the Code, all recruitment agencies are obligated to protect their workers from all forms of discrimination, physical and sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation. The agencies are duty-bound to clarify worker and employment rights, and expected functions at the very beginning of the contract relationship. They introduce workers and employers to their rights and obligations and communicate in a language that is understood by the worker. Those agencies that violate the code of conduct by facilitating work placements leading to forced labor and exploitation for instance, will be blacklisted.
Some of the principles upheld in the Code of Conduct include, among others, transparency in business operations; the provision of full information to the worker about conditions of employment in Lebanon; the verification of the worker’s qualification and no placement of underage workers.
"The challenge remains in the implementation mechanism and in relevant self-accountability and disciplinary actions," said Jurdi, adding that “in the unfortunate absence of a labor law that protects the rights of migrant domestic workers, this booklet is definitely a step forward in the right direction, within the frame of an international commitment towards which the Lebanese Government is answerable." “In the absence of any state-manned protective regulatory framework for domestic workers the Code of Conduct is the sole available document so far capable of enhancing the transparency of the placement process of migrant domestic workers,” he added.
"The Code of Conduct is not enough by itself," Jurdi said. He stressed that ultimately, the State was the main "duty-bearer" concerning migrant domestic worker rights, as the Code does not replace the importance of having strong legislation.
Since 2005, OHCHR has been working closely with the Lebanese Government, ILO and various non-governmental organizations to alleviate the hardship of domestic workers in Lebanon. A Steering Committee was set up in the same year to develop a national plan of action. One of the first major achievements of the Committee was the drafting of a unified contract, which provided a common set of standards to protect domestic migrant workers. The Contract became effective in February 2005.
However, in 2012, the death of an Ethiopian migrant worker who committed suicide days after being abused made international headlines.
Experts on migrant issues point out that the Code of Conduct, if scrupulously applied, will improve the situation of migrant workers in the country.
The online version of the Information Guide for Migrant Domestic Workers is available at: http://www.mdwguide.com/
29 July 2013