The Lebanese government must ensure migrant workers’ rights are protected as a new consultation on the country’s abusive kafala sponsorship system is launched today (Wednesday 11 March), Amnesty International has said.
The national consultation on reform of the kafala system, which ties the legal residency of the worker to their contract with their employer, is organized by the International Labour Organization in collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour. It will be held in Beirut over the next two days, starting a conversation on measures that are needed to ensure improved working conditions for migrant workers.
“For decades, successive Lebanese governments have turned a blind eye to the abuses that migrant domestic workers suffer in their place of employment,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s MENA Regional Director.
“The ongoing economic crisis in Lebanon has exacerbated the situation for migrant workers. Many have reported that the value of their salaries has decreased by around a third because of the currency crash.
“Under kafala, these workers cannot leave their employers without losing their immigration status. The situation is particularly precarious for domestic workers as kafala enables serious abuses to be committed against them.
“The Lebanese government must seize this opportunity to urgently reform the kafala system, and take this step towards improving migrant workers’ lives.”
The consultation represents a significant opportunity to adopt a revised Standard Unified Contract for the Employment of (Migrant) Domestic Workers. Amnesty International is calling on the Minister of Labour Lamia Yammine to ensure that the revised draft includes provisions that address the current inequalities and power imbalance between the employer and the worker, and other restrictive aspects of the kafala system.
To address the fundamental injustices of the kafala system, the new contract must include the following:
- The right of all workers to resign and terminate their employment contract at will without immediately losing valid immigration status;
- The right of all workers to change employer without the consent of their current employer and without losing valid immigration status;
- Ensuring that all domestic workers are eligible for the national minimum wage, thereby ending discrimination based on the nationality of the worker;
- Prohibiting the confiscation of the worker’s passport and identity documents by employers;
- Enabling live-in domestic workers to freely leave the household during their daily and weekly rest periods, and a clear prohibition on locking workers in the houses of their employers.
Lebanon is home to more than 250,000 migrant domestic workers, mostly women, who come from African and Asian countries and work in private households. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are trapped in a web woven by the kafala system, an inherently abusive migration sponsorship system, which increases their risk of suffering labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking and leaves them with little prospect of obtaining redress.
In a report published in April 2019, ‘Their House is my Prison’: Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon, Amnesty International found consistent patterns of abuse including employers forcing domestic workers to work extreme working hours, denying them rest days, withholding their pay or applying deductions to it, confiscating their passports, severely restricting their freedom of movement and communication, depriving them of food and proper accommodation, subjecting them to verbal and physical abuse, and denying them health care. Amnesty International also documented some extreme cases of forced labour and human trafficking.
In April 2019, the Minister of Labour invited Amnesty International to be part of a Working Group tasked with submitting a reform plan aimed at dismantling the kafala system. The group was coordinated by the International Labour Organization. In June 2019, the Working Group submitted to the Ministry of Labour a plan of action that sets out the necessary reforms to dismantle the kafala system over the short and medium term. However, the then-Minister of Labour resigned soon after the onset of Lebanon’s protest movement before adopting any of the suggested reforms.