Lebanon: Revised contract must lead to end of kafala system

Following a recent meeting with Lebanon’s Minister of Labour Lamia Yammine in which she said she intends to adopt a revised standard unified contract that addresses the current inequalities of the kafala system, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:

“While this development would mark significant progress towards dismantling the abusive kafala system, we urge the Minister to seize this opportunity to finally put an end to a system that has trapped thousands of migrant domestic workers in a world of misery.

“Any revised contract must include fundamental provisions - such as the right of the workers to resign and terminate their employment contract at will, and the right to change employer without the consent of their current employer - to help protect migrant domestic workers’ rights.

“This step must be accompanied by the creation of a labour inspection unit, specifically designed to monitor the working conditions of migrant domestic workers, and intervene promptly in the event of breach of contract by employers.

“The Ministry should also push for amending the labour law to include domestic workers under its protection, and to allow migrant domestic workers to form, join, elect and be elected to unions.”

Background

During a recent meeting with Amnesty International, Lebanon’s Minister of Labour Lamia Yammine said that the Ministry had prepared a draft amended labour law which extends protections to domestic workers. She later tweeted that the Ministry was working towards “reforming” the kafala system, which provoked criticism from organizations insisting on its full abolishment.

Despite several years of campaigning by human rights organizations and activists to end the kafala system and extend labour protections to domestic workers, past Lebanese governments have failed to meaningfully address these abuses or to provide effective remedy to victims of the system.

Amnesty International recently documented cases where migrant domestic workers have been abandoned by their employers due to the intensifying economic crisis, without pay, their belongings, or passports.

Although paying workers on time, providing accommodation, and covering the cost of tickets to return home are stipulated in the current unified standard contract, in the absence of any enforcement mechanism, employers often breach the contract and go unpunished.

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. Amnesty International has campaigned for the dismantling of the kafala system for several years.