The United Nations Country Team in Lebanon launched an initiative to promote better treatment of the country’s domestic workers who are frequently vulnerable to abuse but lack legal protection and recourse. In a press conference at the UN House in Beirut on 23 June, UN Resident Coordinator in Lebanon Robert Watkins announced a Code of Conduct requiring UN staff in the country to abide by 21 specific standards when employing domestic workers. This is the first initiative of its kind by a UNCT in the region.
"We have developed this code of conduct, not because we think we are failing to ensure a safe and decent environment for workers in our homes. On the contrary, as UN Officials, my colleagues and I are keenly aware of international standards and laws. It is our job, after all, to advocate for them every day. Rather, the code of conduct is a voluntary measure. By using it, we are challenging ourselves to do more," Watkins said. He noted that a new global Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers was adopted last week at a meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva and that it is of great importance to the Middle East region, which hosts over seven million migrant domestic workers.
UNIC Beirut Director Bahaa Elkoussy said in opening remarks at the conference the treatment of domestic migrant workers in Lebanon constituted a difficult issue and has often been the object of public debate and controversy. "The UN system in Lebanon is committed to improving the situation of domestic workers. One step in this direction is the development of this Code, which requires all Lebanon-based UN staff to adhere to international human rights standards and provisions of the Lebanese Labor Law when employing domestic workers," he added.
Deputy Regional Director of ILO Maurizio Bussi told reporters that the Code applies to all domestic workers in Lebanon and not only migrant ones. "We are convinced that on issues of fundamental principles and rights at work the UN should set an example," he said. Regional representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Fateh Azzam emphasized Lebanon’s ratification of most international human rights agreements on the protection of workers. "Through these agreements, we can provide protection for workers; however, this step also requires follow-up, good implementation and the culture of respecting human rights and the dignity of domestic workers," he said.
Also present at the press conference was the Ambassador of the Philippines in Lebanon Gilberto Asuque, who said this UN code of conduct represents an opportunity to move further with the protection of migrant workers in Lebanon and influence policy and decision makers to adopt regulations in favor of respecting the rights of domestic workers in the country. Under this code, UN staff are asked to treat domestic workers with dignity, respect and without any form of discrimination. They are expected to protect them from sexual harassment, abuse, violence, or any other form of verbal or physical abuse or inhumane treatment. They should not work more than an average of 10 inconsecutive hours a day and should enjoy an uninterrupted daily rest of at least eight continuous hours and a weekly rest of not less than 24 continuous hours.
They are entitled to keep all their official documents in their possession, should enjoy freedom of movement and should never be locked inside their place of work or their room and never forced to remain in the household outside working hours.