Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Daily Star: NGO organizes public discussion about plight of domestic workers

BEIRUT: Awareness about the plight of migrant domestic workers has grown but activists are still having trouble arousing the interest of the general public on the issue.

Hoping to attract wider involvement, non-governmental organization Nahwa al-Muwatiniya on Monday held a public discussion on the rights of migrants.

There are about 200,000 female migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. As they are not included in the Lebanese labor laws, they are vulnerable to exploitation. The laws governing migrant workers were formulated before “the explosion in their numbers,” said Beirut director of Human Rights Watch Nadim Houry.

He said there were over 500 recruitment agencies registered in the country, with an increasing number being granted licenses each year. But asking the authorities about the number of agencies blacklisted for abusive practices was “like asking for a state secret,” Houry said, urging greater transparency from the government.

A recruitment agency official said a syndicate for agencies and an accompanying website had recently been established to help organize the industry and protect workers. “Agencies must be more educated” about their obligations, he said, but noted they were “not law enforcers.”

Aimee, a Malagasy community leader who has lived in Lebanon for 12 years, told listeners about when she first came to the country. When she arrived at her employer’s house, “she didn’t smile or introduce herself … I didn’t even know her name or [phone] number.” She said she had to “fight” to be able to go to church on Sundays, let alone have a day off.

Although a complaints hotline is being established by the Labor Ministry for migrant workers and their employers, participants said it remained to be seen how effective it would be. “Who is on the other end of that hotline?” asked Father Martin McDermott, who has pioneered migrant rights in Lebanon. – The Daily Star

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