Lebanon News

ILO issues service directory for migrant workers

FILE - Foreign domestic workers carry banners during a protest marking the International Women's Day in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 8, 2009. (Grace Kassab/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: The International Labor Organization issued a report Tuesday mapping out services available to migrant domestic workers in Lebanon with the aim of improving the accessibility and effectiveness of NGO efforts.

In conjunction with the report, which documents the development of NGO services to domestic workers and recommendations for coordination, the ILO released a directory of services for domestic workers to distribute around the country.

The aim of the report, entitled “Working with migrant domestic workers in Lebanon (1980s-2012),” is to close the gaps between various service providers and recipients.

“[The project] brings us a little bit closer to the collective harnessing of efforts so we can target, coordinate and complement initiatives that seek to make equal work for domestic workers a reality,” said ILO Regional Director Nada al-Nashif at the launch event Tuesday.

There are more than 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. Many of these workers are at risk of exploitation since they are excluded from the Lebanese labor law and subject to immigration rules based on employer-specific sponsorship, known as the kafala system.

“We want to work on a new law particular to domestic workers,” said Marlene Attalah, representing Labor Minister Salim Jreissati at the launch.

Attalah added that a new law was still in the drafting stage and under ministry review, but emphasized that the Labor Ministry would continue cooperation with NGOs, the ILO and other organizations while “putting together a strategy to structure the sector.”

For the moment, due to lack of legal protection, NGOs are often the only lifeline to workers in need of medical care, psycho-social counseling, legal assistance and educational services.

According to human rights organizations and NGOs, many employers withhold salaries and deny workers a day off, holidays or sick pay. Often workers are prevented from leaving their employers’ residence and, in extreme cases, have been subjected to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse without legal recourse.

“Domestic workers do not have a collective bargaining force so they can’t demand their rights. NGOs and international organizations are doing that on their behalf,” said ILO National Project Coordinator Zeina Mezher who leads the project.

According to the report, there are currently 18 NGOs operating in Lebanon that focus on issues facing migrant domestic workers. The ILO directory, available in Arabic and English, lists these NGOs and the services they offer by geographical region.

The hope, said Mezher, is that by mapping these services, NGOs will be able to set up “a proper referral mechanism that will provide services for domestic workers.”

The ILO has developed an interactive, online map that shows services and also allows NGOs to see the activities of other organizations and update the map as their service offerings fluctuate or new initiatives begin.

The report also offers recommendations to increase the effectiveness of NGOs working in this sector, most importantly by increasing their collaboration and involving domestic workers themselves in needs assessments and initiatives to raise awareness.

Another recommendation by the ILO is for NGOs to focus on policy advocacy to prevent abuse of workers in the first place.

“Domestic workers are not voters, which makes it harder for decision makers to make change,” said Mezher, highlighting the crucial roles NGOs can play at the policy level, where domestic workers lack influence.

The next step in the ILO project will be distributing the directories around Lebanon and raising awareness about availability of services.

The distribution strategy, said Mezher, will “go beyond the usual stakeholders, like NGOs and international organizations ... to go to Western Unions and the markets where domestic workers go on Sundays [on their day off] in order to reach them.”

The ILO will also begin to work with its regional offices located in the countries of origin for workers coming to Lebanon, to distribute pre-departure materials regarding their rights and what to expect upon their arrival.

To view the ILO service directory and interactive map visit:

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 28, 2012, on page 4.




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