NGOs: Lebanon Should Recognize and Add Labor Law Protections for Domestic Workers
Lebanese authorities should recognize a union for domestic workers, who are excluded from the protection of the Lebanese labor code, more than 100 nongovernmental organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said in a public statement on Wednesday.
Ensuring the right to freedom of association for domestic workers would help to strengthen the legal protection mechanisms for domestic workers, many of whom experience abuse in Lebanon, the NGOs stated.
On December 29, 2014, six Lebanese workers submitted a request to the Labor Ministry to form such a union. But union members said they have received no response to their request, and Labor Minister Sejaan Qazzi denounced the union as illegal, according to media reports.
“Instead of slamming the union proposal, Qazzi should push forward on longstanding promises to protect the rights of domestic workers and bring abusers of migrant domestic workers to justice,” a spokesperson for the organizations said.
The union proposal would include domestic workers and others who provide care in homes for the elderly and those with disabilities, those who provide cleaning services in homes and offices, and some other similar categories.
Article 7 of the Lebanese labor code, enacted in 1946, specifically excludes domestic workers, both Lebanese and migrants, denying them protections afforded other workers.
While article 92 of the labor code allows some foreign workers to join unions and associations, the code has been interpreted to bar union membership for domestic workers and others excluded from the labor law.
Under article 92, all foreign workers are also explicitly denied the right to elect or be elected as representatives of a union.
Lebanon should treat all workers in accordance with international human rights law, which requires all countries to respect the rights of everyone in their territory to freedom of association, without discrimination, the organizations said.
In addition to a lack of labor protection, domestic workers are subject to restrictive immigration rules based on Lebanon’s sponsorship-based kafala system that puts them at risk of exploitation and makes it difficult for them to leave abusive employers.
The most common complaints documented by the embassies of labor-sending countries and nongovernmental groups include mistreatment by recruiters, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, forced confinement to the workplace, a refusal to provide any time off, forced labor, and verbal and physical abuse. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report highlighted Lebanon’s poor record of punishing abuse against domestic workers.
A Lebanese decision to deny domestic workers the right to form a union would violate the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is party.
The ICCPR requires Lebanon to ensure that everyone in its territory can exercise freedom of association, “without distinction of any kind.”
Under the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, everyone has the right “to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups” for the “purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
In June 2011, Lebanon voted in favor of the ILO’s adoption of Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the treaty that protects domestic workers, but has yet to take steps to ratify the treaty or bring itself in compliance.
Lebanon should ratify ILO convention no. 189 and implement its provisions. Lebanon should also ratify ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, which states that “workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization.”
The Labor Ministry reportedly has said it is developing a draft new labor law, based on ILO convention no. 189, but the details have yet to be made public. Despite repeated public announcements by Lebanese officials that they would improve conditions for migrant domestic workers, reforms have been insignificant.
The Lebanese government should amend the labor code or adopt a new law to protect the rights of domestic workers and to abolish the kafala system, the organizations said. A new law to protect domestic workers should, at a minimum, ensure equality with all workers included in the labor law. Such measures should also ensure the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining without discrimination to all workers.