ILO Study: Employers’ perspectives on domestic workers cast light on violations of workers’ rights

The ILO and the American University of Beirut (AUB) launch the second of two studies titled ‘Intertwined’ on migrant domestic workers in Lebanon.

Press release | 22 September 2016
Beirut (ILO News) - A study by the ILO and the American University of Beirut (AUB) on employers of migrant domestic workers title “Intertwined: A Study of Employers of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon” has found that breaches of migrant domestic worker rights are widespread, particularly in regard to regular payment of wages, weekly leave entitlements, and freedom of movement, including the worker’s ability to leave the employer’s house.

During the launch of the study this week at the AUB’s Issam Fares Institute, participants discussed the findings of the new study which surveyed over 1,200 employers of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. The new study complements a 2015 survey of 1,500 live-in migrant domestic workers title “Intertwined: The Workers’ Side. A Study of the Working and Living Conditions of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon.”

The new study, which is also based on 30 in-depth interviews in major population centres across Lebanon, shows that, in violation of the minimum legal requirements imposed on employers of domestic workers, only half allowed their domestic worker a weekly day off from work. Of these, only half allowed them the freedom to go where they choose on this day.

Recruitment of migrant workers was also found to be problematic, with most employers paying high fees to engage private recruitment agents to recruit migrant domestic workers. Two out of five employers said that they deducted the fees they paid to recruitment agents from their domestic workers’ salary, This is despite the illegality of such conduct in Lebanon, and despite the fact that workers’ wages are already low and often paid irregularly or withheld: 35 per cent of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are paid less than $200 a month, and over 40 per cent of employers do not regularly pay their worker wages at the end of every month.

The new study finds that 69 per cent of employers provided the workers with a private bedroom, with significant differences based on countries of origin. For example, only 38 per cent of workers from Bangladesh were given their own room, with others of their compatriots sleeping in the kitchen, balcony, living room or other part of the apartment. However, the earlier study of migrant domestic workers reported that only 50 per cent had a private bedroom.

Of high concern is the finding that one out of five Lebanese employers locked migrant domestic workers inside their homes, with nearly 18 per cent of employers falsely believing that they were legally entitled to do so. Of those aware of the illegality of locking up domestic workers, over 37 per cent said they engaged in this practice anyway.

The findings show that employers were sometimes misinformed about their legal obligations, with most relying on second-hand information or consulting only the recruitment agency. In other cases, employers were aware that they were breaching the law (for example by confiscating workers’ passports or locking up their domestic worker) but continued to act with impunity.

The study also highlights the unequal power balance in the employment relationship between employers and migrant domestic workers. This is largely rooted in the sponsorship - or kafala - system (which links migrant workers’ legal status to one employer and precludes the workers’ ability to leave the employer,) as well as the exclusion of domestic workers from labour legislation and social protection.

Based on thought-provoking discussions with participants at the launch event, the ILO and AUB will work on revising the report’s recommendations, which will be published in due course and used for ongoing work by the ILO and its collaboration with key constituents.