- POSTED: 31 Dec 2013 16:34
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Across Lebanon, there are some 200,000 foreign workers who are employed in local households. The workers are mainly women, and are excluded from Lebanon's labour law and face physical, psychological and sexual abuse from their employers.
LEBANON: Across Lebanon, there are some 200,000 foreign workers who are employed in local households.
The workers are mainly women, and are excluded from Lebanon's labour law and face physical, psychological and sexual abuse from their employers.
Non-governmental organisations and human rights associations are working to improve their rights but it is an uphill struggle to effect real change.
Anna left the Philippines nine years ago, hoping to find work in Lebanon and pull her family out of poverty.
Like most migrant workers, she arrived in Lebanon through the help of an agency who told her she would work as a nurse in a private house.
But the reality turned out very differently.
In addition to her nursing tasks, she was forced to work as a house cleaner with almost no days off, for only US$200 a month.
She said: “One day while I was cleaning the balcony, the (employer) came and slapped me on my back because she didn’t like the way I cleaned the balcony. And I didn’t know how she wants it done.”
Most of the 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon come from impoverished countries in Asia and Africa.
They are employed as house cleaners, nannies and care-takers for elderly.
Abuse is so widespread that countries including the Philippines and Ethiopia have banned their citizens from going to Lebanon as migrant workers.
Foreign workers in Lebanon are dying at a rate of one a week as a result of their working conditions.
The widespread abuse is the result of a sponsorship system that legally ties foreign domestic workers to their employers.
Lebanese labour law fails to offer them any protection.
Lala Arabian, executive manager and protection coordinator at Insan, said: “They don’t have fixed working hours, so they may have to work for long hours and they cannot complain. They don’t have days off. They are not allowed to go out. There are also instances of abuse, like physical abuse, violence and rape.”
Anna no longer works for a private household.
She has a job at a hairdressing salon but verbal abuse and sexual harassment remain part of her daily reality.
She said: “There is so much verbal abuse in Lebanon. When you start crying or start to react, they will tell you, ‘We’re just joking’. But for us, it’s humiliating.”
Human rights lawyer Roland Tawk said: “We need a special law for migrant domestic workers which states all the related problems and find solutions for all these cases of abuse.”
The Lebanese government has yet to address the issue, in large part because of Lebanon's political vacuum.