BEIRUT: Many of Lebanon’s domestic workers, who flock to the country in their tens of thousands each year to clean and look after households, arrive unprepared for the task at hand and unaware of their rights.
This has left countless workers open to abuse and exploitation – a problem civil society groups and governmental agencies have sought to eradicate for years, without much success.
However, while much-needed legal enforcement seems a long way off, a practical solution has now emerged, promising to address some of the abuses by bridging the gap between agency employer and employee.
Lebanon’s first maid training center, The House Keeper Training Academy, opened its doors this week, and will be the only independent provider of training to incoming workers, who arrive from places as distant as Nepal and Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Most people have some kind of problem with their maid but there is one simple solution to this and that is knowledge,” said center founder and director, Rachid Beydoun.
“We will train them how to clean all the different rooms in the house and how to deal with different types of materials, products and electronic devices they find in the home.”
The Beirut-based center has been kitted out like a proper home where workers will be presented tasks like cleaning wine stains off difficult surfaces. They will also learn safety tips, such as what medicines to keep out of the reach of children and how to act appropriately with visitors, which has proved a point of contention in the past.
“These girls do not come from the same environment as us. They often have not used electronic equipment – such as hoovers – which can prove problematic for them,” said Beydoun, who hopes both agencies and employers will approach his service for help.
With just a four-day basic training, priced at $180, or an additional three-day course, starting from $90 for those looking to study more advanced aspects, including table service and food preparation, Beydoun expects to yield impressive results, stemming the return of workers to their agencies and easing worker transition into a new job.
Crucially, Ray Group – the organization behind the center – will also inform migrants of their legal rights, which permit them one day of rest each week and restrict working hours to 10 hours a day, while following up all course attendees for three months to ensure they are doing well in their new post.
“This is very much a [two-way street],” said Beydoun.
“We show them their rights so that they can be more responsible.”
Preparation, however, can only alleviate part of the mistreatment and racism experienced by the 200,000 domestic migrant workers thought to be residing in Lebanon. A recent study conducted by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights estimates that 70 percent of incoming workers are deceived about the nature of their work, while according to Human Rights Watch, the overwhelming majority receives virtually no access to justice, the potent mix of which, on average, causes one maid to die by committing suicide or trying to flee from their employer each week.
While civil society groups contacted by The Daily Star seem enthusiastic about the House Keeper Training Academy in principle, they refused to hand out judgment on the scheme until the first group of recruits finishes training.
But for his part at least, Beydoun seems prepared, vowing to report any unregistered recruitment agencies, said to account for as much as 50 percent of the Lebanese market and blamed for the worst of the ill-treatment.
His center will also work to alleviate the language barrier, seen as a source of abuse, and will provide translators, in addition to booklets made by civil society group Caritas, which act as a multilingual household manual for domestic helpers.
Additionally, the team hired to train incoming workers will also consist of former domestic helpers who not only speak the same language as, but have also encountered the same challenges as the new recruits.
“I’m very excited to help the new girls and to teach them about all the different things they will have to do,” said Tala, an Ethiopian maid working in Lebanon for four years who will administer the training.
“I was lucky to have a madam who taught me everything but I can show new girls how to avoid any problems and to deal with any situation,” Tala, who declined to give her surname, said.