ILO News (BEIRUT) – Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour (MoL) has launched a 24-hour hotline for women migrant domestic workers to allow them to report cases of mistreatment or abuse and receive help.
The establishment of the hotline, and accompanying public campaign to alert migrant domestic workers to the existence of the hotline, was initiated and funded by an ILO project for the protection of domestic worker rights in Lebanon, and facilitated by Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre, an arm of the international Caritas charity.
The charity trained social workers and other ministry employees from the Foreign Labour Force Division on the effective management of the hotline and an MoL helpdesk to cater to women migrant domestic workers. The initiative falls within Caritas’s work to support the ministry’s response to complaints raised by migrant domestic workers, through an existing Memorandum of Understanding between the charity and the MoL.
The hotline was launched by Lebanon’s Minister of Labour Sejaan Azzi at a press conference at a Ministry of Labour office in central Beirut just days after the fourth International Migrant Domestic Workers’ Day, which marks the adoption of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention (C189) in 2011.
“This project is the practical implementation of the Ministry of Labour’s concern for human rights,” said Sejaan Azzi. “Every domestic worker now has an address to turn to lodge a complaint in the event she is subjected to any kind of harm or violation of her dignity, and that address is the Ministry of Labour,” he added.
Emanuela Pozzan, Senior Gender Equality Specialist at the ILO Regional Office for Arab States said at the press conference: “Convention 189 is really about putting domestic work at the centre of our lives, and recognising the value of the work that these women and also men do, which allows many others to leave the home and enter the workforce.”
“We welcome all initiatives that can support and improve the lives and working conditions of domestic workers. This is why the ILO has supported this important initiative of establishing the ministry’s domestic worker hotline in Lebanon,” Pozzan added.
In June 2011, ILO Convention 189 became the first international labour standard to guarantee domestic workers the same basic rights as those available to other workers. These include regulated working hours, weekly days off, minimum wage, payment of overtime, social security, and clear terms and conditions of employment.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) there are around 53 million domestic workers worldwide, 83 per cent of whom are women. Without clear terms of reference, unregulated payment scales and unregistered status, domestic workers are amongst the most vulnerable groups of workers in the world.
Father Paul Karam who heads Caritas’s operations in Lebanon said: “The hotline aims to bring together the efforts of Caritas, the ministry, and workers who, when they face problems, need quick intervention to find a solution. They need someone to listen to their complaint, and follow up on it and protect their rights(…) Our cooperation with the ministry will continue, in order to realise mutual goals including passing a law concerning domestic workers, and ratifying Convention 189.”
Migrant domestic workers throughout Lebanon that are estimated to total over 200,000 in number, with the largest communities coming from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
They are permitted to enter and stay in Lebanon under the Kafala (visa sponsorship) system, with no other legal alternative since they are not included under the Labour Code. This system gives disproportionate power to the employer and excludes migrant workers from accessing the protections of the Labour Code.
Many face a variety of legal, social, financial and cultural obstacles, and are subject to various forms of abuse, often overlooked by society and public authorities. Such conditions include exploitative and abusive behaviour from the employer, unpaid or underpaid wages, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, heavy workloads and excessively long working hours, confinement to the house, food deprivation, confiscation of documentation and deprivation from communication, prohibitions of returning home and refusal to provide release papers.Caritas Lebanon, which already runs its own hotline for migrant domestic workers in need of help, has trained a total of seven social workers from the MoL on how to respond to calls from migrant workers, including overcoming language barriers and recognizing the worker’s often complex circumstances. The social workers will operate the hotline on a 24-hour basis in shifts, documenting complaints, providing information about the workers’ rights and potential forms of abuse or exploitation, and providing referrals to health care, relevant government bodies, shelters and legal assistance.
An information campaign will see a series of billboards in a number of languages - including Amharic, Bengali, Sinhalese, and Nepali - positioned in prominent public places throughout Lebanon to inform migrant workers of the hotline, which can be accessed through the quick-dial number 1740 from within Lebanon.
In preparation for the launch of the hotline, the ILO previously funded an upgrade of the hotline software and purchase of relevant equipment that links field work performed by MoL social workers to a server at the ministry. The ILO project that initiated the hotline project is the Action Programme for Protecting the Rights of Women Migrant Workers in Lebanon (PROWD), funded by the European Union.