Saturday, June 18, 2016

Migrant Domestic Workers: Overworked and Underprotected

Human Rights Watch

Latika C. sat cross-legged on the floor of a cramped room telling her story about how she ended up in Muscat, Oman, as a domestic worker. Back home in Bangladesh, her husband’s paralysis had required an expensive operation that plunged them into debt. Through a recruitment agent, she found out about an opportunity for employment abroad. In October 2014, at the age of 29, Latika boarded a flight for the first time in her life, bound for Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, for a domestic worker job.

When she arrived, though, a recruitment agency representative took her to the northern town of al-Ain, where an Omani man hired her. Latika, whose name was changed for her safety, said the employer confiscated her passport, took her across the border to Oman, and made her work 15 hours a day with no rest or day off. He did not pay her for the five months she worked and beat her when she asked for her salary. “He cut my hair and burned my feet with hot water,” she says, pointing to the patches of her missing hair and burns on her feet. Shortly after that incident, she fled.

Millions of women, like Latika, migrate as the sole breadwinner for their families to work as domestic workers abroad. With few employment opportunities at home, this is often a choice of last resort. Their wages help to clothe, feed, and educate their children while they care for and raise other children.

While many migrant domestic workers realize their hopes for decent salaries and good working conditions, others face a far bleaker reality. Latika’s case unfortunately is not rare.

Viewed as unpaid “women’s work” for centuries, domestic work remains one of the most undervalued and least regulated forms of employment. Many countries still do not conceive of it as “real” work and often exclude paid domestic workers from protections offered by their labor laws. Consequently, many of the world’s estimated 67.1 million domestic workers, the vast majority of whom are women, are given very few rights or protections.

Migrant domestic workers—around 11.5 million worldwide—are made even more vulnerable to abuse by many countries’ restrictive immigration systems. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—which host over 2 million migrant domestic workers—migrant workers’ visas are tied to their employers so they cannot change jobs without their employer’s consent. Under this “kafala” system, migrant workers who escape an abusive employer can be punished for “absconding” with imprisonment, fines, and deportation. Almost all of the hundreds of migrant domestic workers that have been interviewed by Human Rights Watch in GCC countries over the years claimed that their employers had confiscated their passports as a matter of course, to ensure that they could not escape.

The fact that domestic workers are hidden behind closed doors, living in their employer’s home, compounds the abuses inherent in this system. Employers can easily overwork them, and often do. Some migrant domestic workers recounted to Human Rights Watch how they were forced to work, in extreme cases, up to 21 hours a day with no rest and no day off. Many said their employers did not pay them their full salaries, either paying them less than promised, delaying or withholding their salaries to force them to continue to work in abusive conditions, or denying payment altogether.

Many said their employers confiscated their phones and restricted their communication. Some said their employers gave them little food, scraps left over from family meals, or starved them as punishment for “mistakes” in their work. Women also described sleeping in kitchens, storage rooms, or open living rooms. Many said they were humiliated, insulted, and shouted at on a daily basis. Some said their employers slapped, beat, or burned them. Several spoke of sexual abuse: harassment, assaults, even rape.

In the face of such abusive conditions, some women had risked their lives to escape, climbing down the outside of tall buildings, jumping off balconies, or walking for miles in the desert heat. But those who fled typically found little help or redress. Women described to Human Rights Watch how their employers reported them for “absconding” or filed trumped-up criminal charges against them, such as theft. Often domestic workers dropped any claims against their employers, in exchange for their employers dropping their own accusations, just so the women could go home. Others found the process of appealing for their unpaid salaries or filing criminal complaints prohibitively lengthy and costly, as they are not allowed to work for another employer during an appeal. The end result is that many domestic workers go home unpaid and without redress.

This grim reality is why we need to redouble our efforts in the fight for domestic workers’ rights.

June 16—International Domestic Workers Day—commemorates the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on decent work for domestic workers. The treaty was the first to codify the principle that domestic workers should be accorded equal treatment with other workers and given adequate protections against violence and abuse. Twenty-two countries have ratified the treaty, and many more have adopted labor law reforms improving protections for domestic workers.

Even in the Gulf, some small steps toward reform have been seen. In June 2015, Kuwait passed a law providing domestic workers with labor rights such as a weekly day off, overtime compensation, and annual leave.

While some of the achievements should be celebrated, much more still needs to be done. All countries should ratify the ILO treaty on domestic workers, and reform their labor and immigration laws to ensure that domestic workers have the same rights and protections as other workers. Latika left Bangladesh in search of a better fortune in the Middle East but ended up unpaid, beaten, and burned. Without adequate reforms, many more will share a similar fate.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Integrate expats into society, abolish kafala system: Study

Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — A recent security research study has recommended integrating expatriates into society and abolishing the system of kafala (sponsorship).

The study, conducted by King Fahd Security College, said the kafala system has increased the number of expatriates in the country.

The study, titled: “Expatriate workers in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries and their impact on security,” warned that some expatriates who hold a grudge against their sponsors turn vindictive and hence resort to crime.

It warned that the behavior of some kafeels (sponsors) also forces expatriates into taking the law into their own hands.
“The best remedy is to integrate expatriates into society and abolish the kafala system,” it said.

The study said that most expat workers come to the GCC countries with the sole objective of making money. It recommended spreading awareness among citizens to accept expatriates to help them overcome the feeling of marginalization.

Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, announced last month that Saudi Arabia was planning to give permanent residency to foreign workers similar to the US Green Card system.
“The Green Card-like program and a plan to allow employers to hire more foreign workers above their official quotas for a fee could generate $10 billion a year each,” the deputy crown prince said in an interview.

The planned move is part of an ambitious package of reforms to move away from oil based revenue to raise at least an extra $100 billion a year by 2020. The planned Green Card system could generate $10 billion, and another $10 billion is expected to be generated from the fees imposed to exceed foreign worker quotas.

Indian Lunch with Renuka at t-marbouta

We are excited to invite you to join us on Tuesday, May 17th, starting 12pm for Renuka's first Indian lunch event at ة t-marbouta in Hamra. The event will end once the food runs out! 

The Menu will include:
1. Main dish: Masala beef (beef with curry, coriander, ginger, garlic and onions) with red and white rice on the side. 
2. Papada (Indian bread)
3. Salad (lettuce, carrot, beetroot, parsley, tomato, potato, with lemon-olive oil dressing and a touch of black pepper)
4. Dessert: Gulab Jamun bouchée (a milky ball soaked in rose scented syrup)

Vegetarian menu:
1. Main dish: Soy Masala (soy chunks with curry, ginger, garlic, onions) with red and white rice on the side. 
2. Papada (Indian bread)
3. Salad (lettuce, carrot, beetroot, parsley, tomato, potato, with lemon-olive oil dressing and a touch of black pepper)
4. Dessert: Gulab Jamun bouchée (a milky ball soaked in rose scented syrup)

Price per person is 20,000 LL and includes either of the above formulas. Proceeds will go to the chef. Hope that you all invite your friends and come enjoy the meal with us! Please try your best to arrive early before the food runs out! Take-away option also available.

In all cases, you can also call on 01 350 274 to double-check there is still food available before arriving:)

Fb event link

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016

UAE (and Lebanon) domestic staff passports ‘must not be kept by sponsors’

I recently accompanied a domestic worker to immigration to file a complaint for her friend who is a domestic worker in an abusive situation. While speaking to the immigration officer who was attending to us, I stated that the woman’s passport was taken by the employer. The immigration employee told us that it is “not a problem to keep a maid’s passport, we all do".

The National

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

عاملات المنازل للدولة اللبنانية: للمصادقة على اتفاقية العمل اللائق لعاملات المنازل- Workers' Day 2016

للعام السابع على التوالي، احتفلت عاملات المنازل المهاجرات في لبنان بعيد العمّال/العاملات يوم الأحد 1 أيار 2016، واخترن هذه السنة الضغط باتجاه تصديق الدولة اللبنانية على اتفاقية منظمة العمل الدولية رقم 189 المتعلّقة بظروف العمل اللائق لعاملات المنازل التي صدرت في العام 2011 ودخلت حيّز التنفيذ في 5 أيلول 2013. يوم الأحد 1 أيار، مشت العاملات إلى جانب عدد من العمّال والأفراد الناشطين/ات والداعمين/ات ومنظمات المجتمع المدني* ضمن مسيرة مطلبيّة انطلقت من كنيسة مار يوسف في مونو ووصلت إلى ساحة كنيسة مار فرنسيس في شارع الحمرا حيث احتفل/ت المشاركون/ات بمهرجان ثقافي وسوق تجاري نظّمتهما عاملات ناشطات من جاليات مختلفة وعاملات عضوات في نقابة عاملات المنازل التي تأسّست في كانون الثاني من العام 2015.

وقد ذكّرت العاملات/ين المهاجرات/ين وعاملات المنازل المنظّمات/ين للمسيرة والاحتفال بسلسلة من المطالب الملحّة، أبرزها:
تصديق الدولة اللبنانية على اتفاقية منظمة العمل الدولية رقم 189 وتطبيقها؛ إلغاء نظام الكفالة، وإيجاد بديل عن رابط المسؤولية الحصرية التي تقيّد وجود عاملات المنازل المهاجرات القانوني بصاحب/ة عمل واحد، وتوفير إمكانيّة أن تنهي العاملة علاقة عمل استغلالية؛ إعطاء عاملات المنازل المهاجرات حقوق العمل الأساسية، مثل الحق في فسخ عقد العمل والحق في تغيير صاحب/ة العمل والحق في يوم عطلة خارج المنزل، والحق في تحديد ساعات العمل والراحة، والحق في الحد الأدنى للأجور...؛ مراقبة ظروف عمل العاملات داخل المنازل، والمحاسبة القانونية لأصحاب العمل الذين ينتهكون حقوق العاملة؛ مراقبة أعمال مكاتب الاستقدام وسلوكها مع العاملات/ين المهاجرين/ات ومراجعة آليات الاستقدام والتوظيف؛ وتسهيل وصول العمّال المهاجرين/العاملات المهاجرات إلى الخدمات القانونية.

* شارك في تنظيم المسيرة والاحتفال: حركة مناهضة العنصرية، منظمة كفى عنف واستغلال، كاريتاس لبنان-مركز الأجانب، مؤسّسة إنسان، المركز اللبناني لحقوق الإنسان، مؤسسة عامل الدولية، ومركز المهاجر الأفريقي- الآسيوي. 


For the seventh year in a row, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon celebrated Workers’ Day on Sunday May 1st 2016, demanding the Lebanese State to ratify the International Labor Organization convention no 189 on “decent work for domestic workers”. The convention was adopted in 2011 and entered into force on September 5, 2013. Migrant workers, supporters, and organizers from various civil society organizations* marched today from St. Joseph church in Monnot to St. Francis church in Hamra where a cultural festival and a market were organized by the participating migrant communities and members of the domestic workers’ union which was formed in January 2015.

For this occasion, migrant/domestic workers reiterated a number of their demands to the Lebanese State, such as to:
Ratify and implement ILO convention no189 on decent work for domestic workers; abolish the sponsorship system in Lebanon, and more precisely to find an alternative to the system of responsibility that ties the presence of a migrant domestic worker to an exclusive employer, give domestic workers the ability to exit an abusive employment relationship and change employers; grant migrant domestic workers basic labor rights, such as the right to break their contract, to have fixed working and resting hours, the right to a day off outside the house, the right to a minimum wage…; monitor the situation of the workers inside the employers’ homes, and hold employers accountable for all types of abuse; monitor the behavior and practices of the recruitment agencies with migrant/domestic workers and review the whole recruitment and employment process; and facilitate the access of migrant/domestic workers to legal services.

*Organizations that contributed in the organization of the celebrations: Anti-Racism Movement, KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation, Caritas Lebanon- Migrants Center, Insan Association, Lebanese Center for Human Rights, Amel Association International, and the Afro-Asian Migrant Center.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Workers' Day Photos

Photos by Rahel!

Domestic worker re-united with family after torturous stint in Saudi Arabia.


Nancy Wangari could not hide her joy when she set her eyes on her 38-year old daughter Mary Mulinge.

This is two years after her daughter left the country destined for Saudia Arabia but her dreams would soon turn to a nightmare.

The torturous journey began eight months ago after Mary attempted to get in touch with her mother to narrate her ordeal in the hands of a cruel employer.

Monday, May 9, 2016

More on Workers' Day

Lebanon: Migrant domestic workers take to the streets in Beirut

Some of the most blatant violations of the rights of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon include excessive working hours, withholding of salaries, beatings and sexual abuse, and withholding of passports to prevent them from leaving. However, the workers are not protected by Lebanese labour laws.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Joining Hands

"Meanwhile in the Gulf, it is the South Asian migrant workers who have built the futuristic towers of Burj Khalifa in Dubai and Abraj Al-Bait in Mecca; it is they who have erected the glittering metropolises of Dubai and Doha. But they are made to work under harsh conditions; many of them are underpaid or have to work for long hours without overtime pay. Women migrant workers from this region have been contributing to the empowerment of women in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries by taking care of their prescribed gender roles as domestic workers in their homes, thus enabling them to pursue higher careers in their societies and uplifting the socio-economic status of their families.

And yet, their enormous contributions both at home and abroad are not adequately recognised or welcomed. Their pain and pleas are not acknowledged. They continue to get beaten, abused, and kept in captivity, made to work in unsafe conditions and even tortured or sold into slavery. As a result, a country like Nepal receives an average of three dead bodies per day. Similar instances are witnessed in other South Asian countries."

Kathmandu Post